What Video Game Roleplayers Should Expect At A Tabletop RPG

Aurican's Lair


So as the title suggests, this is going to be an Educational topic for new players to the great hobby of Tabletop Roleplaying. This article is NOTgoing to be a “Tabletop RPG’s are better than Video Games” article or be a “Video Game Players can’t play Tabletop RPG’s properly” article. I too am a video game player and my intent here is to simply point out what a person who has only experienced Roleplaying through the virtual experience of video games can expect when they finally join a tabletop game. This will be in regards to any Tabletop RPG, but, for this article I will use a lot of examples from high fantasy games such as Dungeon’s and Dragons.  Also alot of these examples will be from what I have seen over my experiences.  Everyone’s experience will be different, but these will be helpful to anyone.


question mark head.jpgVideo games…

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Ravenloft Scions

Ravenloft scions

What if the people who thought they escaped Ravenloft never really did? What if instead, mental projections manifested from their thoughts and ideas reached out from Ravenloft near areas where the dimensional boundaries were weak? These thoughts could be made real by the same reality altering powers which first spawned Barovian from Strahd in the first place. These are the energies which the plane uses to shape and reform itself to accommodate all the new lost souls who get pulled in. The powers which manifest the mists, allowing the sentient pocket dimension to tap other worlds for more souls.

So the mental projection, a perfect facsimile of the character, emerges from the mists feeling they have escaped from Ravenloft! But have they? There would still be the original soul, trapped in Ravenloft. That character would emerge from the mists back in demiplane of dread. Possibly in another location. They may not even realize they were still trapped. When they figured it out, it would just seem something went wrong, and they never really escaped. What they wouldn’t know is that no one ever does.

Instead, whenever a character leaves the mists there is a chance they send out a fragment of themselves, a scion, to another reality. The first scion would presumably be sent to the character’s home plane. It would be an exact duplicate of the character and no mortal magic or science could discern otherwise. However, each new one would be different than the last and be sent to a different reality. But the more times the characters try to escape, the more scions they make. The differences would start becoming more noticeable, different backgrounds, social positions, powers, alignment, items, etc.

The Lords of Ravenloft would rarely escape the mists, if ever. These are exceptionally evil souls which the Demiplane of Dread feeds on to create new realms. If the characters were to ever run into a scion of a lord of Ravenloft it would most defiantly exist in its home reality, and would be a perfect copy of the original entity. Deviation in the scions only occurs after multiple copies.

Others, including heroes of great renown, might try escaping again and again. Eventually giving up and submitting to a life in Ravenloft, waging war with its dark pawns. Each time they tried to escape they would have created another scion of themselves, in yet another reality. All these alternates scattered among the multiverse explains so many remarkably similar characters.

For example, Fistandulus from Krynn, Elminster from Faerun, and Etienne D’Ambreville from Mystara. All three of these characters are ridiculously powerful wizards with direct relations to gods of magic, avatars, chosen ones, etc. Consider the possibility that these characters are all scions of the same archmage trying to escape Ravenloft. We know that Etienne and his entire family came through an amber mist from Averoigne, a gothic horror France. And we know that they then disappeared again with their keep Chateau D’Ambreville through the same mist, only to later reappeared with a new chateau similar but different to the previous one. What if they never really escaped Averoigne? What if Averoigne is a realm of Ravenloft (based on the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith) and each time the residents of Averoigne thought they escaped, they instead they created another duplicate? Arch-mages across the multiverse who are immortal avatars of magic.

Sometimes a character in Ravenloft dies while there are scions out there in other realities. The demi-plane would recall one of its scions, typically the lowest generation, to take the character’s place. The scion would eventually realize, if not immediately, they are back in Ravenloft. Most often with anyone who was nearby at the time. They would probably start looking to escape again, possibly succeeding in creating more scions. This constant loop serves to draw more souls into the mist for the demiplane to feed and grow.

Compare the original Ravenloft adventures for the first edition of the game to the second edition material, and the third edition material, fourth edition, fifth edition. Ravenloft keeps changing and growing, feeding on the fears of its inhabitants and shaping itself to the evils of its Lords. Keep in mind however, the Demiplane of Dread doesn’t always follows the rules and nothing here is beyond its power to overcome. Weird things can happen, and if Ravenloft has need of a situation it could create the conditions whether it follows this format or not.

I think this not only explains a lot of things, like why people who have been to Ravenloft always end up going back, but it also gives to potential to create alternate versions of characters and even run dead characters by switching alternates.

These ideas come from partly from Marvel comics, with Kang and his alternate selves, or all the alternate spider-man incarnations. Partly from Star Trek with its alternate realities and the energy ripple in Star Trek: Generations. And of course ideas developed in countless games of Ravenloft game ran by fantastic DMs, including Dan Walsh, Mike Paulhus, Rob Cast, Ron Studley, Eddy Boswell-Correa, Evan Johnson, and others.

Here is an example; In a game run by Dan Walsh, we had the chance to escape the Mists of Ravenloft. There were two portals out, but only one was real. One portal led to a grassy hill, on a sunny field, with a peaceful hamlet in the background. The other one led to a raging storm-tossed sea; in the distance was a ship which didn’t look to have much of a chance against the storm. The heroes argued about which portal to take and ended up parting ways. The ones who went through the village portal found themselves still in Ravenloft. The scene was darker on the other side, the sky was gray and the buildings were worn. The mists are cruel and deceiving. The others found that they had escaped onto a ship, but that ship would eventually make its way back to the Demiplane of Dread. Ravenloft never really lets go of you.

None of this is meant to challenge any copyrights or intellectual property. I am just a very grateful fan who loves gaming and sci-fi/fantasy. Thank you to all the original creators and to the excellent Game Masters I have had the privilege to play under.

How Fate Works

How Fate Works006

I just had a conversation with someone about the Fate RPG, and I hit some points that I would like to share.

Fate uses Aspects instead of crunchy mechanics. Think of a large power armor suit. It would be;

  • Big and bulky powered combat suit.
  • Full sensors and life support for 3 days.
  • Has a long-range missile weapon system.

That is it. That armor is statted out and ready to play now. During the game, any time you would say “yeah but I am in this big and bulky powered combat armor”, then you spend a Fate point token to get a +2 or a re-roll of the dice. Simple right?

So it’s more about how well you describe your stuff, and how important that stuff is to you in game. If you have ever seen Guardians of the Galaxy, StarLord’s walkman is just as important to him and to driving the story, as his blasters or his jet boots. If you want your “Pet Slime Beast” to be as important as your blaster rifle you can put that in as one of your Aspects. Whenever you spend a Fate point token to tag your “Pet Slime Beast” in the story, it grants a +2 or a re-roll to the task at hand.
PLAYER: “but he lets stay for free because he can’t get over how cute my pet slimebeast is and couldn’t bear to turn us out into the cold… right?”
GM: “okay you get a +2 and the innkeeper lets you stay the night”.

Characters are made as a group because other people can tag your Aspects to give you Fate point tokens that you can use later for more bonuses. So someone could to tag your “Big and Bulky” power armor to say you can’t get around to them in time. You get a token that you can use for a +2 or a re-roll on something later. It is super fast playing and easy to grok once you let go of looking for stas and limitations that other RPGs have trained us to do.

The game uses funky dice, but it’s basically 4d6,

  • 1 or 2 is NEGATIVE,
  • 3 or 4 is NO MOD, and
  • 5 or 6 is POSITIVE.

So if you have +2 in Computers, and a “Neural Interface Jack”, your total modifier is going to be +4 with those tasks. You are typically going to get a Result of +2 to +6, with your actual skill (+4) being the most common result. It is possible to roll +4 or -4 and generate a Result very different from your skill (computers + neural interface + high roll could generate a result of 8!) But it is very rare. Tasks aren’t as swingy as a d20 game, if you are good you are typically always good. On the virtual game table everything is rolled with [[4df]], and I have set up a button to click to generate this result.

There are other facets of the game, such as Approaches and Stunts, but once you know how Aspects and dice work, you are ready to play. And now you are…

Repost: Old school figures part two: Minis on the web!

Swords & Dorkery

A longer version of this post originally appeared in 2010 but was in need of updating. I’m not completely done but here’s a start. Thanks to Anthony Emmel for bringing just how out of date this was to my attention!

A lot of miniatures people turn their noses up at old Grenadier and Heritage and Minifigs figures. I will grant that many modern figures, which take advantage of sculpting and molding techniques unavailable to the original manufacturers (and an aesthetic sharpened by the intervening years of fantasy illustration, comics, etc.) are often quite impressive. The level of animation, and the overall quality are amazing. The crisp detail, and the fact the pieces fit perfectly make them a joy to assemble and paint. But I still love the old school minis too. They often have a gritty realism modern figures just lack.

Heritage Models has a number of sites and yahoo…

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What drove me to OSR games.

I loved d20 when it was released, but it became bloated and overly complex. Then Pathfinder seem to be the holy grail of gaming, running like precision clockwork, only to fall prey to the same sickening bloat of expansion book after expansion book. I had begun to feel that gaming had lost its magic for me. There were no more risks. Everything became so mechanical and predictable that the sessions weren’t fun anymore. Challenges became a simple matter of adding up a few bonuses.

“Okay so if one player assists me for a +2, and one player casts bless, and I use this masterwork item, and drink this potion, then we will have enough to do this no problem. No no, don’t waste that spell, we only need a 16 and this way I can do it by taking ten”.

That is what ruined gaming for me. That is what sucked the thrill out of adventures. That is what killed the magic of RPGs. And Old School Revival brought it back to life! I went back to Old School games because I knew that any current edition would just keep grinding out new material. They have to sell books after all, it’s a business. But I realized that the GAME hadn’t lost the magic, it’s not that the hobby wasn’t fun anymore. Rather it was that the editions we were playing. The heavy mechanics and the arguments over a mere +1 bonus. Because the player knows so much about the mechanics that they feel cheated if an unknown element effects the expected outcome. They know the target difficulty of almost any task, and therefore they know exactly how much that +1 matters.

Characters shouldn’t always know what is affecting their chance of success and failure. You don’t get to know that you are about to be stung by a bee on your way to the car this morning. You don’t get to factor that into your plans ahead of time and adjust accordingly. Likewise, the characters may not know about an invisible spy, or a magical effect which protects their target. They may not know that their weapons have been sabotaged during their last rest, or any of a multitude of other “surprises” that were supposed to come to light in a big plot reveal. But instead of these things causing the players to think “in-character” about what is happening and why, they would often result in bickering about how it could be possible that this rule on page X isn’t working all of a sudden. Everyone wanted to be Neo in The Matrix, to be able to see the ones and zeroes behind the facade.

And even when the rules weren’t causing arguments, they still often managed to sap the fun out a game session. How much fun is it to hunt across your character sheet front to back, top to bottom, looking for a bonus? Checking rulebooks full of powers and abilities, trying to hunt down that +2 that will ensure your success. The other players are losing interest while the GM is staring at you ready to tell you the results, but you continue to stall for time, saying “wait I know I get a bonus to that from something.” While you can get caught up in that type of thinking under pressure, and believe me I have, it isn’t really fun for anyone at the table. It isn’t the kind of heroic action which most RPG games aspire to.

Many newer games and independently published RPGs have great mechanics that focus on quick action resolution, or focus on a particular theme or playstyle. These mechanics can often be transported into your game and can be used to mitigate some of the crunch of newer systems. One mechanic I like is this;
Any one thing in your favor grants a +2, any two things grant a +5, and three or more things grant a +10. So if you are trying to pry open a door on 1d20, and you have a strength bonus, a crowbar and a buddy helping out, you get +10.
That is a lot easier than hunting for bonuses, and it rewards the group for working together. But new mechanics can also be very confusing or disorienting to a game that is already very crunchy, or to a group that is not comfortable with house rules. Sometimes it is better to just play the new game for a few sessions and then recommend using the rule in your d20 game.

When it all is said and done, I have found the simplest way to revitalise my interest in the hobby, was to look at all my current stories through the lens of Old School game rules. All the excess mechanics melt away, leaving the most important story elements behind. Characters are described by their deeds and background rather than their modifiers and bonuses. Situations are handled by interacting with the game environment rather than by hunting for something on a character sheet. Social situations in a game are played out instead of being resolved on a die roll.

As a final note, while it is true that you can run a crunchy, mechanic-heavy game that embraces all of these themes, that is often more a result of what you and your group brought to that game, rather than being a play style that is supported and rewarded by the mechanics of the game you are playing. Make sure you are having fun with your games, don’t let them become a chore. Keep on gaming and keep rolling 20’s.

Vikshade Technolich

Note; This article was written last year before I got into the FATE RPG. Expect to be seeing more about that in coming weeks.

Pedro Barrenechea – Gamer to Gamer — World Builder Blog

A new episode of my podcast, Gamer to Gamer, is up on The Tome Show’s website. I sit down with game designer Pedro Barrenechea of Paradigm Concepts to discuss his love of games, career in gaming, Rotted Capes, the Arcanis campaign setting, the Forged in Magic Kickstarter, and a whole lot more. This podcast was recorded on July 5, 2016. Please rate and […]

via Pedro Barrenechea – Gamer to Gamer — World Builder Blog