Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Backstory II

Screenshot 2017-10-03 11.36.37Live in the moment. Live in the now.

But maybe just a smidge of backstory.


Have a family. Have a best friend. Have a wife. A child. A mother.




Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Falling Damage

GM: You look down, you must be over 200 feet in the air.

Player: Falling damage caps out at 10d6, I have over 100 HP… I jump out the window.


This is one of the most famous movie stunts of all time. The stuntman fell over 200 feet, using a new device he had created. Later, Burt Reynolds directed the same stuntman (Dar Robinson, the albino hitman) in the highest freefall ever.

There is a reason this is impressive.

But, if a player at your table responds as above, do you have a right to be pissed?


Nor do you have a right to change the rules.

Gaming is a social contract, that the rules will not be broken. If you arbitrarily decide that this is impossible and then tell the player they yes only take 10d6 damage, but are paralyzed, you have broken the rules.

How does one get around this?

Play a different game.

Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Role to Hit

As a GM, you build up a villain.

Does conflict with the villain simply end up as:

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If your system is designed around combat, this is likely the best you can hope for.

If, as a GM you have to spend hours coming up with tactical strategies to counter what the PCs are doing, you’re playing a tactical, competitive game.

If you want drama, play a different game.

Play a game that encourages a different form of conflict resolution.



Game the Game: Roll vs Role: To Boldly Go

There is a new Star Trek game out there. A friend played it at GenCon. He is a big fan of shiny new things, so now he wants to run it (as well as Starfinder).

I make no claims to being a Trek fan. I like it well enough, but am certainly not versed enough to quote it, at all.

I would like to play a game that felt like Trek though. Different specializations, command structure, cool stuff to do aboard the bridge.

It is my opinion that where Trek games fail is where many games fail: combat. Trek will no doubt have combat rules, and no doubt has Phaser rules. It is not that I am adberse to Phasers being set to stun, and them stunning opponents, rather, I am adverse to this not being a big deal, I am adverse to the fact that if you hand a man a Phaser, he will want to stun.

I stumbled across this:

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While part of me appreciates this, another part of me is calling game design BS.

I ran a 4e game, and I had a player who would get cheesed when I did not reveal my rolls, thus making it impossible for him to tell if is +4 reactionary boost to AC would help or not.

If players know the consequences of their actions before rolling, this negates any drama, and leads to tons of metagame garbage.

If players are boldly going…. they should do so without knowing what is ahead, without being aware of what might happen if they fail, or if they succeed. This goes for any roll, combat, social interaction, fixing a capacitor, etc.

This is why games can be fun.

Games should force us to be bold, To Boldly Go….

I am going to attempt to….

And, it’s cool I don’t know what will happen.

That is where the drama comes from.

Playing a mathematical game of averages is boring.




Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Backstory

How many games are about your character’s past? In my experience, games are about the now, action, consequences, not necessarily about reflecting about the past. Especially, if that past happened prior to session #1.

There is a time and place for backstory, but I think more energy should be put into focusing on the now. Engaging with your character. leave them more of a blank slate, allow the backstory details to be filled in through play, when possible.

Backstory is the past. focus on the present. Focus on what your character is doing. Right. Now.

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Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Method Characters

When you take on the mantle of player, as opposed to GM, and the GM declares the type of game and asks you to make a character, what do you think of? The story of your character, or the in-game effects playing a specific type of character might benefit from.

We all want our characters to be in-game avatars of what we imagine, often we have to interpret the rules and craft our characters to be what we want them to be. If I am playing a bad-ass swordsman, I should be able to craft that.

But, when you think about the character, do you think of the game setting or the rules first?

Does your desire to play an elf have to do with your love of elven culture, or the bonuses they get?

Do you want to play Batman because he is the best at everything, or because you dig his backstory.

If someone said you could play any established character in one of the Big Two superheroic universes, who would you pick and why. I know who I would pick, and I have an idea what they should be able to within the structure of the game mechanics, but my reasons for playing them have little to do with their incredible abilities.

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Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Shall We Play A Game

“Hey friends, I want to run a fantasy game…”

Player A wants to play an elf.

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What the GM means by elf might not be what the player thinks an elf is. And, are they playing an elf for the “right reasons?”

Let’s try again…

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they are all Batman.

The first part of this tasty morsel of wisdom is the following: are the GM and players all on the same page? Do they all want to be playing the same game? Tone, power-level, etc, it is all part of the equation.


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: 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: 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.