Githyanki Diaspora has an interesting interview with Jim DelRosso about Unknown Armies, in which Jim mentions that he substituted Michael Jordan for Alex Abel as the person behind the New Inquisition:
Basically, Alex Abel is set up in the text to be a popular figure in the mainstream consciousness; the “reveal” that he’s running TNI is supposed to be a surprise. But it doesn’t work in a game because he doesn’t exist outside of UA’s fiction: he exists only to run TNI. Getting players to be surprised by that fact is like getting them to be surprised that billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is actually Batman. You’d either have to try to subtly introduce him to the narrative over time, or just ask them to pretend to be amazed. Neither seems fun.
So I went looking for a different Alex Abel.
Scroll down about halfway to the section on how Jordan became the man who decided “to just beat on the pinata of the occult until answers fall out,” which includes a timeline of Jordan’s meteoric success and sometimes curious career changes over the 1990s and 2000s, and how they make sense within the context of Alex Abel’s aborted ascension to the Invisible Clergy and his burning need to discover what he unknowingly lost that day. It really is spectacular, and just the kind of backfilled secret history that makes Unknown Armies the role-playing game of Tim Powers novels.
#RPGaDay2015 snuck up on me this year. I was literally on vacation when it kicked off and it took me a couple days to get myself in gear, hence the big catch-up post on the 10th. After briefly toying with doing more batch posts as I saw some other folks doing, I decided I had the time to go for a post a day. Sometimes that meant banking a week’s worth in advance, and hoping that I had still had enough oomph to make the last post of the set interesting. I still felt as though I kept hitting many of the same games and things as last year, but I did come to appreciate how Dave Chapman switched up the topics and made them less about what stuff one bought.
And again, thanks to Dave for organizing the whole #RPGaDay2015 experience. He puts the prompts together, gets the word out there and this year brought in some very cool guest commentators who might not have otherwise participated in the conversation. Additionally, I got a charge out of seeing bloggers and designers I follow participate. Made me feel like we were part of a tighter-knit community. And I got to discover new cool people to follow, like Casting Shadows — which I was doing anyway, but his YouTube channel deserved its own shout-out; it’s as though he ran two blogathons at once.
After all that, I’m feeling more invigorated about role-playing games than I’ve felt in a while, as you may have been able to tell by the wealth of card game-related posts and videos that have gone up over the summer and spring. There’s a new campaign on the horizon for me and while I don’t plan to recap it as I did Carrion Crown or Skull & Shackles, perhaps I’ll find some inspiration there to write about exploring a new character type and mindset, or discovering the dynamics of a group of players all over again.
Finally, here’s the round-up of the #RPGaDay2015 topics for your amusement:
- Forthcoming Game You’re Most Looking Forward To
- Kickstarted Game Most Pleased You Backed
- Favorite New Game of the Last 12 Months
- Most Surprising Game
- Most Recent RPG Purchase
- Most Recent RPG Played
- Favorite Free RPG
- Favorite Appearance of RPGs in the Media
- Favorite Media You Wish Was an RPG
- Favorite RPG Publisher
- Favorite RPG Writer
- Favorite RPG Illustration
- Favorite RPG Podcast
- Favorite RPG Accessory
- Longest Campaign Played
- Longest Game Session Played
- Favorite Fantasy RPG
- Favorite SF RPG
- Favorite Supers RPG
- Favorite Horror RPG
- Favorite RPG Setting
- Perfect Gaming Environment
- Perfect Game for You
- Favorite House Rule
- Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic
- Favorite Inspiration for Your Game
- Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games into One
- Favorite Game You No Longer Play
- Favorite RPG Website or Blog
- Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity
- Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGs
And as we wrap up #RPGaDay2015, the final prompt turns my thoughts toward what role-playing has done for the wider world. My answer would have to be: people.
Think about it. Role-playing games teach us problem-solving. They teach us empathy, both for characters in the game and for players at the table we might not have known otherwise. They teach us to collaborate, to utilize the available resources in the most efficient way possible, to build a shared narrative out of wildly disparate parts in a way that is — ideally — inclusive and constructive.
In the best case scenario — and, I think — in most scenarios, role-playing games teach us to be better people. Empathic, inventive, constructive, literate people. That’s a win every way you look at it.
And that’s #RPGaDay2015! Thanks to everyone who came along for the ride, commented, shared their own experiences and made the journey so much fun. Thanks especially to Dave Chapman, the mind behind Autocratik and the #RPGaDay blogathon movement. He puts the prompts together and led the charge with a vlog series that brought in publishers and designers to participate who might not have had the capacity to engage in the full course of the month.
Day 30 of #RPGaDAY2015, or “We’re nearly there!” Dave over at Autocratik lobs us a softball today, presumably because he’s acutely aware of how draining 31 posts in 31 days can be — and he’s been vlogging the whole endeavor, editing in guest vloggers, too.
My current favorite celebrity role-player has to be Thomas Middleditch. He openly declared his allegiance to nerdery when he talked about being a GURPS GM on Late Night with Seth Meyers. In the full clip of the interview, Middleditch shares a bit about his campaign “We the People,” in which the signatories of the Declaration of Independence are asaulted by a werewolf. Also, he calls GURPS “exquisite.”
More recently, Thomas Middleditch has appeared on Nerd Poker, taking on the swing character Winter the mage. And that, too, has been spectacular, as he incorporates the detritus three-four other swing players have left in Winter’s history and made the character his own brand of creepy “why do we keep him around?”
Certainly the RPG website I visit the most is RPG.net. It was one of the first I stumbled across when learning about role-playing games and its reviews database at the time had a strong influence on how my library grew. I still visit it regularly — multiple times a day, in fact. For a long time, though, that custom of frequent visits has felt akin to turning on the television to make noise in the house: you get more comfort from the constant background buzz than you do any significant gain from the content there. Like any web forum, there are perennial topics that come up again and again. It’s almost reassuring to see people continue to bicker over whether role-playing games are dying and whether game publishing is an industry or a hobby.
Instead, I’ll give a shout-out to d20pfsrd.com. A dedicated team of Pathfinder fans did an amazing job of taking the game’s system reference document and to host it the Google Sites platform with a breathtaking amount of cross-referencing. It’s absurdly easy to jump from one related topic to the next because how of thoroughly game terms are hyper-linked. They use a “linkifier” script to recognize the use of a term that needs to be linked, and run it through what must now be thousands of pages.
Those thousands of pages are ridiculously up to date, too. As Paizo releases more open content, the d20pfsrd.com team industriously brings it into the site. That website is such a huge boon to sifting through the maze of options that has sprung up around playing a Pathfinder character. I can’t recommend it enough to someone trying to figure the mechanical part of a character they’d like to play.
Today’s topic stings a little bit. I haven’t regularly role-played for almost a year now, owing to other commitments. And my game library is ludicrously over-sized relative to the percentage of them I have actually played, or at least played or GMed more than once. So picking a favorite out of the games I no longer play would almost be like picking my favorite game, period.
So for the sake of form, let’s say Mage: the Ascension. I ran a campaign for a while, until I fooled myself into believing I had too few players to make it good. Mage has always been one of my favorite games since I first discovered it through the back door of someone’s fan site — I bet it was some gem of the 90s web like Anders Mage Page — and one I found myself collecting in lieu of playing. I even went so far as to back the big anniversary edition, which is slowly slouching toward reality.
I don’t imagine receiving the Even Bigger Purple Book will magically enable me to run or play Mage any time soon — in fact, the projected size of the tome seems wildly impractical for any use that doesn’t involve it majestically perching on a lectern, ready for consultation; chains to secure it being unnecessary by virtue of its heft — but the unthinkingness with which I leapt to join the crowdfunding campaign, even after years of not playing Mage, tells me a lot about the level of esteem in which I hold this game.
Merging games together is something I have a real taste for. I spent way too much time working on blending The Madness Dossier with GURPS Cabal to make Broken Spokes. Another mash-up idea I am fond of is the Madness Conspiracy, dropping Conspiracy X‘s AEGIS on the frontlines of the struggle against the annunaki of History-B. Bringing Dennis Detwiller’s Gilchrist Trust in the WitchCraft universe would be cool, too.
It can’t be anything but Suppressed Transmission. We’ve talked about this Pyramid column of Ken Hite’s before. I agitated for the release of the still-uncollected bulk of the corpus. Regrettably, nothing came of that, which is a crying shame because what was published was so damn good as an idea mine of utter weirdness to build into your game of choice.
There have been spiritual successors, like Matthew Rossi’s Things That Never Were, a collection of essays that feel like they could be a Third Broadcast, right down to using the neologism “bisociate.” Hite went on to write a similar-sounding series for a Swedish magazine, and then kicked off Ken Writes About Stuff for Pelgrane Press, which was rather more mythos- and GUMSHOE-focused when I was subscribed, but it still felt like kin to Suppressed Transmission.
Pound for pound, though, Suppressed Transmission is where it’s at for finding all kinds of crazy ideas and oddities of real world history to seed into your games, whether they’re modern gonzo conspiralunacy or a traditional fantasy campaign in need of some new, previously unknown monsters and antagonists. Someone out there has to have taken up Hite on his suggestion of Justinian I as a demon, right?
I’m not sure I can answer this one. Any mechanic I like that one would call revolutionary is probably old enough that it’s been outdone in terms of radical innovation several times over by newer games. Instead, I’ll talk about a mechanic that I really like. It probably wasn’t the first, it certainly wasn’t the like, but it’s the example that I know and like.
Angel included a system for designing an organization for which the characters would work — or own; as you’ll see, the system was designed to be flexible. The GM grants an amount of points, to which the players can contribute some of their own character build points, and the players distribute points into their organization’s spheres of influence and their place within it. The two extreme examples are Angel Investigations and Wolfram & Hart. The first is a group whose players put their points into being in charge. Angel Investigations has minimal clout in Los Angeles and runs lean, without many resources to call on. But the characters are in charge, damnit: they answer to no one but each other and set the direction for the company.
Alternately, Wolfram & Hart’s players clearly dumped all their points into contacts, resources and clout. The firm exerts influence on multiple planes of existence, its facilities seem limitless and people generally quake in their boots when J.Q. Cheatem from Wolfram & Hart shows up with a sheaf of papers in hand. On the other hand, to get their law firm to that level of status, the players have put themselves at the very bottom of a very tall pyramid which is capped off by three or more demigods of uncertain though certainly worrying levels of power.
So there’s a wide spectrum to work within when designing your organization with Angel‘s mechanic. I really dug that, and regret not having had the chance to put it into play yet. Giving the players that level of control over the campaign framing device should really get them engaged with not only their character’s development, but the course that organization takes over the span of the game.
My favorite house rule would have to be the one that I don’t even think of as a house rule. When we played Carrion Crown, the GM instituted a house rule that each round, a character could drink one potion as a free action. Doing so simplified play, made potions a slightly more appealing option in the tight action economy of Pathfinder and became completely invisible. In short, it was the perfect sort of house rule.