Sunday 26 June 2016

Safe Spaces and X-Cards

This post is actually a request for comments, as I am putting together table rules for Toronto Crawl Classics. As such, I hope, whether you intend to participate in the Toronto game or not, you will supply your thoughts.

I recently heard about an individual’s negative experiences related to gaming, including rape jokes, doxixng, unwanted touching, being followed home, and the like. Of course, as I step towards doing a long-term open-table campaign, I would like to make sure that my table offers a safe space. That is, I don’t want anyone to ever feel abused at a game I have anything to do with.

When I was told about X-Cards, I thought “What a great, and obvious, idea!” The more I have been thinking about them, though, the more I am doubting that my initial reaction was the right one. And that is what this post is, really: Asking the community for their thoughts. Anyone who would like to comment should feel free to do so. Anyone who wants to comment anonymously may do so at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com.

Here are my areas of specific concern:

(1) I have a tendency to believe that rpgs should push comfort zones, and there are definitely horror elements involved in Dungeon Crawl Classics. I have some concerns that the X-Card system would remove uncomfortable decisions and experiences from the game. And, in Dungeon Crawl Classics, that might be a lot of the game. Consider:

  • Your PC fumbles and something bad happens. Can you tap the X-Card to undo the fumble?
  • The same, but a critical hit against your PC. Does the X-Card make the crit go up or down on the chart?
  • The same, but clerical disapproval.
  • The same, but mercurial magic.
  • The same, but corruption.
  • Etc., etc.

Worse, I imagine that running almost any published adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics, and certainly any adventure I have penned, will bring on a host of tapping the X-Card simply to deal with events that go against the characters. Or having to deal with any of the creepy monsters, situations, or choices that exist within the better adventures.

Can you imagine running Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror where the players can veto, without cost, the appearance of any creature or any event within the scenario? I am concerned that the game itself would swiftly lose its point. Which brings us to (2):

(2) Elements in a well-crafted scenario are there for a reason.

One of the X-Card examples I was given is that a player dislikes spiders, so taps the card, and the GM changes the encounter to giant rats.

That is fine in a scenario where the placement of monsters has no specific purpose, but let us take again the aforementioned Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror. The titular monster collects bones, so the creatures encountered in the scenario have none. The creatures encountered are part of the “footprint” of the main encounter, and it is not so simple to change them. Especially not on the fly.

For another example, what if a player objects to the superior hearing of the Pallas Troth in The Black Goat? The scenario falls apart. You can take almost any well-written scenario, and see where aspects can be removed or changed which will damage (or destroy) the whole.

(3) I have been a strong proponent of the view that the GM runs what he wishes, and the players either decide to play that game or not. The idea that the players can veto anything flies in the face of this position. Does the game adapt to the player, or does the player adapt to the game? I have always been a strong advocate that the player adapts to the game, and alters the game to adapt to herself through the agency of her characters.

(4) It was exampled that a player may use the X-Card for something minor, such as a name, to demonstrate that it is okay to do so at the table. This suggests that players should not hesitate to demand alterations of things that they find only somewhat uncomfortable. It also suggests that not having to deal with any minor discomfort is more important than the value of a coherent scenario to the other players at the table.

(5) While I certainly would not find sexual harassment acceptable, this seems to go far beyond preventing abuse and into some other territory. In fact, the use of X-Cards may rob agency from the GM in terms of creating and presenting scenarios, and the other players, both in terms of (a) reacting to those scenarios, and (b) even experiencing those scenarios.

For these reasons, I am concerned that using X-Cards may make game play anaemic. Because I always want to run the best game I can, I am soliciting the input of you, the reader. What do you think? Should I use X-Cards? Should I not use X-Cards? Should I use them in some limited form? And, if so, what should the limitations be?

Monday 20 June 2016

Free RPG Day 2016

As previously announced, I ran Black Feather Blade at Dueling Grounds in Toronto, Ontario for Free RPG Day 2016. Joining me were Heather Bishop and Morgan Clayton, who were part of the original playtest group, to run the NPC groups of Duani and Seldon Esh respectively. If you are running this game at a convention (or otherwise) and can take the opportunity to allow players to run the NPCs, the adventure will be all the better for it.

Black Feather Blade was designed with two Robert E. Howard stories in mind – The Black Stranger (aka The Treasure of Tranicos) and Hills of the Dead. If you are fortunate enough to read both before running the adventure, it will be to your benefit. In The Black Stranger, Conan has to deal with other groups who are after the same treasure as he is. Because each group is roughly balanced, politicking and exploiting events becomes the order of the day. The likely culminating events of Black Feather Blade is an homage to Hills of the Dead.

We only had three other players, but two of them were author Marzio Muscedere (Steel and Fury) and author/artist Elias Scorsone (Wrath of the Frost Queen and Dungeon of the Dragon Master). Marzio also has a new adventure in the works with Purple Duck, Death Slaves of Eternity – look for it this July!

Six PCs entered. Two PCs survived. Spoilers follow. Select text to read.

  • The first PC death was due to the giant dire mole. The mole managed to survive the adventure, much injured, having retreated into its tunnels.
  • For the first time running this adventure, I have seen players explore all six burial mounds.
  • A certain curiously carved silver whistle was found, but the players had the good sense not to blow it.
  • Great use was made of the “sacrifice chain” mechanic. We actually got to the “lover or family member” option because, when his wizard died, Elias decides that he and his elf PC had been lovers. When his elf fell to a swarm of corpse parts, I let him use the accumulated Luck to modify the “roll over” check to see if the elf survived, but sadly Malotoch’s favor was not enough!
  • Once the titular Black Feather Blade was found, there was a three-way combat in the final tomb, with a swarm of corpse parts attacking everyone involved. What fun!

Free RPG Day swag included the Goodman Games preview of DCC Lankhmar and Mutant Crawl Classics, as well as Slügs! for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Without going into spoilers, both scenarios from the Goodman Games release are excellent, and if you did not pick this up you should try to get the pdf when it appears on RPG Now.  I am a fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and found Slügs! an amusing read, but I don’t think I would use it much at the table.  It’s a sort of mini-bestiary, containing a bit more goofiness than grit. But then, who knows? Some of the slügs described are potential denizens of ruined Toronto once I get Toronto Crawl Classics up and running….!

Saturday 18 June 2016

Nexus Game Fair

I should have posted this a while back, but things have been busy. Sometimes better late than never.

I had the good fortune to attend the Nexus Game Fair in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from May 27th to 30th. 

I had the opportunity to play in several games run by the talented Brendan LaSalle (creator of XCrawl and all-around Goodman Games luminary), as well as Scott Swift of Lesser Gnome Games. In the late hours of Sunday night, I even managed to run a bit of The Arwich Grinder.

It is probably pretty clear from these pictures that photography is not my strong suit. 

In any event, there was some great gaming, a lovely room party with much interesting conversation to be had, and great people to meet, game with, and hang about with. If I am able, I will return again next year.

It should be noted that Brendan LaSalle deserves extra XP for confounding the powerful sonic attack of a walrus-demon with merely his wits, his goodwill, and a pair of earplugs supplied by the hotel. Thanks for putting up with me!

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Free RPG Day

I will be running Black Feather Blade, from the 2015 Goodman Games GenCon Program Guide, on Free RPG Day.

Level 1, Dungeon Crawl Classics

June 18th, 2016
Noon until 5 pm
(or the last PC falls)

Duelling Grounds 
1193 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1N4

All Materials Supplied!

Up to 10 Players May Participate!

Saturday 11 June 2016

Increasing the Bandwidth

Purple Sorcerer Free Tools pledge drive is underway! Check it out!

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Mathom Deadline TODAY

You can still get in on the Mathom by 1 August, but if you want an element in the adventure, today is the deadline. 

Here’s the cool part: I am going to start writing the adventure in June. SO…up to an including 1 June 2016, you may also include in your comments something you would like me to include in said adventure, and I will try to include it. Remember, this is a free project, so don’t be surprised if you don’t end up with 17 patrons just because of the comments. Keep it reasonable…but be inventive.