Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Character Changes

Does your game of choice, or the game you are playing, allow for your character to change over time? I am not talking about changing your class, but that can be part of it. Can your alignment change? People change. Remember that friend in college who loved industrial music, and always wore combat boots. Now, he likes to play golf on the weekends, and listens to NPR.

People change.

Does your system allow for this change.

In designing my superhero game, I very specifically put in rules so players can rebuild their characters, from the ground up if they like. Why? Because it happens in comics. Because it happens.

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Game the Game: Con Games

powermanThis year, I will be running my Secret Legal Crisis. It is a game with a somewhat ridiculous premise, Wonder Girl and Wonder Man, Power Man and Power Girl, and Carol Danvers and Billy Batson are all served to appear in court to resolve superheroic naming protocols. She-Hulk will be serving them their papers.

How much do I believe in this game?

Enough that i commissioned artwork for it, out of my own wallet.

I want it to be memorable.

And when the reveal comes, wow is it great for folks who love geeking out over comics and canon.

I have a list of Convention Games I have in various stages of development. Games that I want to run, and hope to.

  • A two-table, 16 player GI Joe game with 2 GMs, two teams of Joes, working on missions connected to each other, GMs would communicate during the scenarios.
  • A two-table Marvel+DC game, one table running Marvel, the other running DC… to begin. Secret Convergence Contest and Crisis of Champions.
  • A 13th Age game with the D&D cartoon characters as the PCs.
  • A Voltron-style game with the Wu-Tang Clan as a 1980s cartoon.
  • A dead rock-stars Scooby Doo style game, where they need to form a band, and solve a mystery, shenanigans ensue.
  • A 1980’s LXG.
  • A 1970s LXG.
  • Archie+Monsterhearts.
  • Monster High + Monsterhearts.
  • Splinter of the Mind’s Eye TV Show.

I like making my con games memorable. I think the first two will be a go, I just have to get my co-GM/ conspirator to the con.


Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Know Your Role

The game was Shadowrun, I have no idea which edition.

I wanted to play a man of few words. A tortured soul, who rarely spoke. I had him envisioned in my head, playing out in cinematic moments.

Sadly, my gaming group got the best of me.

As players, we tend to gravitate towards certain roles, not in-character, but in terms of group dynamic.

Likely, a group of friends who play together will have a dynamic all sorted out. Con games can be wonderful opportunity to try on a different role hat.

My character was not able to be stoic, because we needed a leader, to plan, and talk to people, and no one else really wanted to grab those reins.

So, my man of few words became the mouthpiece.

It happens.

Some player roles:

  • Leader- bringing everyone together
  • Planner- likes to come up with detailed schemes
  • Talker- enjoys speaking to NPCS
  • Quiet One- some people enjoy gaming, and have an internal reaction, this is fine
  • Violent One- some folks just want to roll initiative
  • Punny One- you know this friend
  • Contrarian- in a scifi setting they want to be a halfling thief, in a fantasy setting….

There are more I am sure.

Know your own strengths.

In one of the best con-games I played in, last year, a Changeling: The Dreaming game, I fully admit I don’t know the game that well, and assumed the role of the Quiet One. My other players were all over the setting and rules, and were happy to assume other roles.

In my group dating back the longest, I used to assume the role of “asshole,” you know the type, likes to pick fights with other PCs, plays to their alignment, etc.

Time has changed me, when we got together for the greatest reunion game ever, I took on some planner and even leader duties.

A group doesn’t need to decide who will be who. It happens organically, and some groups will have repeats and will have archetypes not listed, and will be lacking some, and players will take on multiple roles.

But, the lesson is, be true to yourself, play to your strengths and…

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Game the Game: The Con Game

Whether you will be running games, or playing games at a con, I think there are some things to look for in a convention game, assuming the game is designed for newcomers to the game and system.

  • Make the PCs competent.
  • Allow each PC to have a niche.
  • Design your game for the minimum and maximum number of players. I have some great ideas, sometimes they require X number of players to really be successful. I end up scrapping these ideas. I design games that can handle 2-X+1 number of players. I usually always welcome players to my table, even if it is “full” (assuming I have a character ready for them. I have run a superhero game with 14 players, a Monsterhearts game with 18 and about 10 spectators.
  • Design a scenario that allows the setting and system to chine, without having to rely too much on prior knowledge, or long moments of exposition.
  • Give the players a taste of the core mechanics of the game early on, so they get comfortable. In most games, this means starting out with a combat. Make this opening be consequence-free.
  • Help the players. Give them a hand with the game mechanics. they all want to kick-ass and take names. Assuming you designed characters that can do this, help them with gentle suggestions of what might be a cool thing to try.
  • Don’t kill anyone. It sucks to pay for or at least sign up for a game and be out before the game is over.
  • Manage time. This is an area I consider a strength. I keep my watch visible as a clock and work to always have the game end on time and in a satisfying fashion. You don’t need to rush things, know your system, and plan accordingly.
  • Don’t be offended if someone leaves. It sucks. Maybe the game wasn’t for them. maybe they are meeting someone. Maybe con-fatigue has set in. Thank them for coming, assure them it’s all good. Everyone at the table is there to have fun, including you. If it is not fun, it is best if we all move on. No hurt feelings.
  • Let players keep their character sheets. Not everyone wants to, but some people definitively do. If i have to hand my character sheet back, I feel ripped off.

Game the Game: Powers High Playtest

I ran a playtest of a teenage superheroes (and villains) in high school game this past weekend.

Buy-in was easy with my players, as they kept their characters from my long-running supers campaign, just reverted to high school age, so they knew all the NPCs already, and things in the regular game had gotten very grimdark, so something different was a welcome change of pace.

Many newer games, of the indie persuasion, discuss how we play a game to find out what will happen.

In the most literal sense, that is what this first playtest was, I wanted to see what would happen, and how the game mechanics would work.

What we discovered, is that a game about high school kids, and their relationships, and all the drama and shenanigans that come with it, is a lot of fun.

200252438-003Not a single punch was thrown, no one even clenched a fist. There was a Tetris tournament, there was chest-puffing, several young female students sat in the bleachers and watched the boys’ sports practice, and it ended with a Sadie Hawkins dance.

And it was a success.

Because of all these things.

The game, both as played, and as designed, encouraged these activities as much as anything.

Will people be interested in a supers game that isn’t about punching?

We were, and for right now, that is what mattered the most.

Future design additions will include a system for holding hands.

Not joking.




Game the Game: Role vs Roll: “I roll to hit!”

Game the Game: Role vs Roll will be a regular series approaching gaming questions through the wisdom of memes, delivering unto you, “wisdom” and “advice” about roleplaying and roll-playing.


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As GM, you have crafted a terrifying villain, he has depth, he has ties to the PCs, you even have his voice and mannerisms down. The PCs meet up with him, as he sits on his throne.

And just like that, you’re into combat.

Surely, you didn’t plan for this.

PCs can be kill-crazy murder-hobos/ crusaders for blood+justice.

How do you stop it?

Find better rules.

If you are playing a game that requires your NPC be ready for battle all the time, and must contend with the combat machinations of the PCs to survive, don’t expect your awesome NPC voice and description of the awe the NPC inspires to stop the PCs.

And, don’t make arbitrary rules.

Find a better rule-set.


Game the Game: LMTYAMC: Corum

Raise your hand if your RPG character is an orphan.

That’s a lot of hands out there.

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Genre fiction, of which RPGs often seek to emulate, is filled with orphans. Loners.

My friend challenged us years ago, in a D&D game to think outside the box.

My character, a paladin who might have had a crisis of conscience (I believe we started at 5th level) had a wife and daughter. I found this to be compelling.

His greatest moment came not when he one-hit killed the dragon (the DM was trying out a new critical hit system, it worked great!).


His greatest moment came when he returned home and his wife told him that the nuns in his order had taken their infant daughter, claiming she was chosen for a higher calling. His wife was inconsolable.

I marched down to church and demanded her return. the higher-ups in the church were clear what would happen to me if I betrayed them.

I was able to secure my daughter and return home.

Would I be outcast? Would the church turn their back on me? Would my god?

All compelling questions.

The most compelling conflict came not from fighting Evil, but from having to make a tough decision.

It was no decision at all.

Never once did I ask the DM what would happen, from a game rules standpoint.

Allow yourself to develop a deep connection. Allow yourself to make a decision based on what your character wants to do, not what is proper in terms of game mechanics. As a GM, push your players to make these decisions, ignore the rules. Be in the moment.

I wish I could tell you happened to Corum. The game ended on this note, which on one hand is incredibly frustrating, but on the other is a perfect conclusion.

Game the Game: Role vs Roll: May You Roll Interesting Results

The GM has a puzzle.

The players need to solve it.

Your character, a halfling (of course) named Burdock, loves riddles.

You, the player are not very good at them.

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The GM does not want a one-roll binary solution to this problem: player rolls a dice, the result is failure or success.

Especially because in most games, this degree of arbitrary success/failure can be calculated as a percent, and thus, loses drama.

Thus, a GM needs to consider the game mechanics, they need to allow Burdock the chance to shine, but also, they need to allow for INTERESTING RESULTS.

NOte the last part IN BOLD. I did not say if he fails.