30 March 2012

Vote For Adventure: Series 3 Retrospective

That's right, I'm back again with another Vote For Adventure retrospective. I've done them twice before, go take a look.

The Setting

This time around I mandated a generic fantasy setting. I needed something easily digestible after the difficulties with the last one (survival horror). That isn't to say that the voters weren't given input, they were. What I did was allow every voter to submit a word. This word could be whatever they wanted, although I warned against profanity. The idea was that I would compile all of the words and incorporate them into the game in some way. I wasn't able to use all of the words, but some of the themes and motifs of the game came straight out of these words. One of the most important, the color red, was because so many people submitted words that were related to that color.

Character Creation

In S2 we used a % skill system that, while working, turned out to be difficult to use. Players couldn't remember what their odds were and many didn't feel particularly attached to the character. For S3 I switched things up again. This time around I simply introduced the adventure and created the character based on the choices they made in the very first poll. In this case they entered the dungeon by solving a puzzle and were plagued by recurring dreams. I combined those choices with some of the words from the setting to create the character. I also asked some follow up questions as about the character as we progressed through the Series (Male/Female, for example).

The character we ended up with was Kamala, a Vivid/Vibrant human female. A Vivid/Vibrant is a type of spellcaster that uses drains color from the world in order to power their magic. Kamala drains the color red and this element of the world and story was strongly influenced by the word choices from earlier. We also learned a little bit about Kamala from the actions and votes throughout the series. She is a treasure hunter, and acquires of artifacts. She travels far and wide and frequently manipulates emotions with her magic. Kamala is curious and has a bad habit of getting into trouble by poking metaphorical bee's nests.

The character's name, incidentally, was also voted on and supplied by the voters.

I would say that Character Creation was a resounding success for S3. It worked smoothly and everyone became attached to the character. I got a great level of "buy in" and a sense of ownership from the voters. So much so that when it came time to vote on what S4 would be the voters chose to build on to Kamala's story.


This time around I tried GM fiat as the method of resolution. I responded based on the actions chosen by the voters and what I thought made sense. This turned out to be surprisingly popular and was voted in again for S4.

I did feel that I wasn't as cruel as I should have been with my responses as I was worried about truly hurting the character without a dice roll or something to buffer the blame. This is something I intend to improve on for S4. I need to be more impartial about what happens.


I think S3 did really well. Traffic-wise it was probably a little less than S2, but it had a much more regular voter base without the massive swings. I think Kamala attracted a bit of a core following. I also had a lot of fun with this one, even if it started as a rather formulaic dungeon crawl. It grew into so much more than that.

You can read from the beginning of Series 3 right here.

20 March 2012

Won't someone please think of the newbs?

One thing that I've noticed about the role playing hobby is that it isn't friendly to new players. I'm not talking about the community itself, most message boards I've seen are filled with people that are happy to lend their experience. No, I'm talking about the actual state of the hobby.

Despite role playing games being easier than ever to actually obtain thanks to the wonders of digital distribution, it seems like the hobby really caters to existing players. Where are the new player guides? Where are the introductory adventures? Wizards of the Coast and Paizo may have gotten their acts together and finally published some competent introductory products, but, judging from all of the forum threads featuring people looking for a product to start with, they haven't done a great job of advertising them outside of the people that already know how to play.

Not good enough.

WotC and Paizo aren't the only publishers to blame, though. Take a look at the introductory chapter of your favourite RPG. You know, that "What is an RPG" that you usually skip over. These chapters are almost uniformly terrible. They raise more questions than they answer, they assume the reader already knows what they are doing or they explain the wrong things. If you move on from there and into he actual "How to Play" chapters you will find that these are no better. They all assume the reader already understands the concept and structure of role playing games and from the viewpoint of a completely new player are mystifying and unhelpful.

Part of the problem is no doubt how difficult it is to actually explain in writing how role playing games work. Since the birth of the hobby this has always been something that was easier shown than told. Decades ago when TV and Film and Video Games were limited a prospective player would probably spend the time to puzzle things out for themselves, but these days? In the age of the Internet there is very little chance that someone is going to spend more than a little time trying to puzzle out your game. They're going to move on to some other form of entertainment or, if they are set on tabletop role playing, they will turn to the Internet to answer their questions. Why don't you go do an Internet search on how to play? I'll wait.

Back with me? Nothing particularly useful, was there? A few lazily written guides that cover the physical steps but don't really communicate the actual how of it. If you're lucky you will find that an out of date primer from WotC that tries to sell you products that are out of print. This is a problem. Our hobby can not grow if it has too large a barrier of entry. Programs like D&D Encounters and products like the Red Box and the Beginner Box are a good start, but they aren't enough. A new player needs to be able to type a few words into Google and get the answers they need.

What I said about the community earlier wasn't strictly true. Gamers might be willing to offer help in a friendly and welcoming manner, but that help is awful. Many of the threads devolve into experienced players arguing about which game or edition the new player should be playing. The advice is contradictory or just plain unhelpful. I'd be surprised if many prospective players leave such a thread any more enlightened than they were going in, some of them are probably more confused.

The Solution

The tabletop RPG community needs a definitive "Newbie Guide". A guide that the entire online community can get behind and point newcomers at. It should come up in web searches so that people curious in role playing can find it on their own. Ideally, the guide would have a nice CC license that would allow anyone to customize and update it. It could birth a hundred more new player's guides.

This guide needs to be something free of system bias and argument. It should explain all of the most basic elements of role playing and contain system-agnostic advice. The ideal guide will point potential players in the direction of clearly written, beginner-friendly and free RPGs. It should contain overviews of various beginner products, such as the Red Box, and links to quick-start rules for the more popular/well-known games. The very basic play structure should be explained along with advice on creating players and organizing games. All of the most frequently asked questions should be answered. Things like "How can I play online?" or "How do I find someone to play with?" need to be answered by the guide.

I'm probably not the guy to write this guide, but I'm going to do may best anyway. New players deserve something like this and the role playing hobby needs new players to thrive.


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