But Only If… Fiat as Negotiation


All roleplaying games have mechanisms for deciding what should happen when there is a question as to what will happen next. Surprise, you could say, is the reason we play roleplaying games, rather than writing a novel. In many games, the surprise comes from the outcome of rolling dice, but this isn’t the only way surprise can be injected into a story.

Fortune, Karma, and Drama

The mechanisms for deciding the crucial question of “what happens next?” are as varied as the thousands of roleplaying games that exist, but all of them boil down to some combination of the following:

  • We consult dice or cards, or some other randomizer, which will tell us what happens next. This is known, in game design, as a Fortune mechanic.
  • Someone pays an amount of some kind of points in order to purchase the authority to say what happens next. This is known as a Karma mechanic.
  • And finally, someone who has the authority to say what happens next, simply says what happens. This is known as a Drama mechanic.

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Non-Violent RPGs: Introduction

Conan, what is best in life?

A History of Violence

I wanted to talk about how roleplaying has changed in the years since D&D conquered the tabletop. There’s no getting around the hobby’s roots in wargaming. For those of you who don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons began its life as a fantasy supplement for a tabletop wargame called Chainmail. But we’ve come a long way since then. We’ve learned that there are other stories to tell than tales of bloody battle. There are stories of mystery, suspense, horror, and even love and friendship. You may not believe it, but there are stories which do not include violence at all, or which dramatically de-emphasize it.

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Play Unsafe: Improv Principles and Roleplaying


Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley, is an exploration of improv principles as they relate to your favorite activity and mine: roleplaying games. I liked it a lot. Or maybe I liked it an ordinary amount, but because it was so short, it got an inordinate amount of “like saturation”. It was a good book. Let’s talk about it.

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Immersion & Emergent Play in Minimalist RPGs

D.A. Trampier’s Treasure Hunters found on Fiery Dragon

I’ll admit, part of the joy of roleplaying, for me, is learning a new system, figuring out all the bells and whistles. The Modiphius 2d20 system really does it for me when it comes to the level of crunch that I enjoy when I’m in a mood to chew on a rule system. But the question of what is really needed to play an RPG has been on my mind a lot lately. A game like Aces & Eights which has dozens of different sub-systems, covering everything from a bar brawl to a cattle drive, to yes, getting gangrene, can be a lot of fun. However, recently, I’ve been thinking about games with lightweight (but solid) structures, and the kind of emergent gameplay that comes from minimalism.

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Why You Should Stop Cheating at D&D


Or any roleplaying game, really. DMs cheat for a variety of reasons. Most of you cheat “in the interest of the game”, whether that’s to save a PC who would’ve otherwise died if you allowed the dice to fall where they may, or to prevent your precious plot hook from being revealed prematurely. There are any number of reasons a DM might fudge a die roll, and most of them are bad ideas.

So, a PC has the Demogorgon on the ropes. But the PC is also hanging on by a single hit point. It’s your turn. You roll, and the monster hits. But you’re savvy. You rolled your dice behind the screen. As far as your players know, you’re pulling these numbers out of your ass. You could say anything, and they would have to believe you. You look over the screen, and you can see the look of quiet desperation and pleading in your player’s eyes. Their paladin’s 20th level and they’ve been playing the same character for years. So much relies on this die roll.

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Rolemaster Player Zodiac

coverRolemaster was part of what you might call the second wave of RPGs that followed D&D, and attempted to do better what D&D had already established. There were a series of supplements for Rolemaster each with “Law” in the title: Talent Law, Arms Law, Character Law. Today, I’m talking a bit about Gamemaster Law, specifically a section toward the front of the book about the Player Zodiac.

Like the astrological zodiac, the Player Zodiac attempts to categorize people into types. The difference here is that the Player Zodiac categorizes people based on how they behave at a gaming table rather than trying to predict their behavior based on their birth sign. Thus, it is a lot more practical, insofar as it actually does work and is useful.

Personally, I think there’s something deliciously specialized about a category system so specific to a single activity (roleplaying, in this case). It says something about roleplayers, and geek culture in general, that we get along best through using systems to understand these alien creatures called “Hoo-mans”.

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Fate Aspects in Creative Writing: Fleshing out your Plot

This is a continuation of my previous post concerning using Fate Aspects to flesh out characters. This week we’re gonna talk about using Aspects to figure out what’s going on in your plot. The purpose of Aspects is to serve as keywords that point you to the core idea of a character, scene, plot, or situation. As previously explained, they are punchy phrases like Daredevil WWII Pilot or Never Back Down From A Good Fight.

More appropriate to this week’s discussion, where we’ll talk about using them to describe the story as a whole, you may consider Aspects like The Town that Time Forgot or The Sword of Damocles. These might describe themes or threats within your story that will unfold over the course of writing.

What follows is a very basic introduction to how to use Aspects to define elements of your story. There are some resources down at the bottom of this article if you’d like to take it further. The ideas are not really complicated as they may seem, but they’re beyond the scope of a single blog article.

Spoiler Alert: This article contains very mild spoilers for Stranger Things 2 and Stephen King’s It, used to illustrate some of my points. Read no further if that sort of thing upsets you. And seriously, go watch Stranger Things.

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