Journal of the Emerald Specter 58: Changing the RPG Mentality

I’m going to angle towards writing another single topic column here, I’ve got my topic and I’d like to see where this thing goes. There is possibly a little more at the end but let’s get to the meat of this thing!

Specifically speaking, this one is about roleplaying and roleplaying games. I touched on this in the Specter Show but this is the place I’m going to flesh things out, thinking about exactly what I need to do in order to accomplish what I’m about to explain.

Kevin Couick and I have discussed running roleplaying games before the Greatest Show every week so that we can actually play the games we’re talking about wanting to play but never actually do play. Basically, we’re trying to figure out how to put up or shut up, and I’d rather do the putting up because I think this thing needs to happen.

In a typical gaming session, there is a ton of cross talk, joking around, odd pacing, sometimes there are props, and always a struggle for the game master (GM) to keep the players rolling towards the ultimate goal. Quite often there are also problems like players missing for a session, forcing side quests or just generally playing a different game. With these as the primary hinderances to the cast of the Greatest Show playing an RPG online, it is hard to think we’d be able to come up with a means of getting some gaming in (rather than just talking about all the games we want to play).

Kevin has been reading up on Star Wars: Force and Destiny, using a timeline to choose the era he’d like to run the game in as well as deciding what canon to use as the background. He’d like to see something around the Old Republic era (Sith War type era) and I’m into that as a player. I want to be a Force user in a war time situation where I can explore the gray area of the Force.

I’m exploring running a couple of different things, one being a return to the system that I know the best, being either a Vampire the Masquerade (5th Edition) or Vampire the Requiem (Blood and Smoke)… or starting out in a new system with an excitement that I’ve not felt about a system in a long time, using the Fantasy AGE system (either specifically TitansGrave: Ashes of Valkana or a setting of my own design). In either case (speaking of the broad systems rather than the specific products), I’m going to run something.

This means we need Metal Jesus to run something to be a three person rotation, allowing us options to play. If I had to guess what he’d run, I’m guessing Burning Wheel, which is something I’d be interested in trying. I’m sure he’d be interested in running something, and the rest of us would love to play in that something.

Here is the issue, though: not all of us are present every week for the Greatest Show.

Kevin and I discussed the solution to this on one of our post-show conversations, that’s running episodic stories that may or may not have a longer term arc involved. This would allow us to explain away why one of us is missing without completely ruining what we play. That would mean that the Green Team story I was running would need to be “rejiggered” a bit in order to fit this new format, and that leads to what I wanted to talk about.

My personal storytelling style (in the RPG sense) is epic in scope. I don’t think I’ve ever had a “one shot” or short term story in mind… ever. Thinking episodic, I’d have to make the story into smaller “missions,” allowing for the absence of one of the players and allowing for a larger arc to be referenced for cohesion. This would allow for “seasons,” too, and we could have guest players pop in to play in “character focus” stories, kind of like a real TV show having a character focused episode now and then.

All this use of “episode” allows for another term to get entered into the record: season.

If I run TitansGrave: Ashes of Valkana with the idea that I’m going to have a 13 episode “season one,” that means I can do that and then take a break to become a player for Kevin’s 13 episode “season one” of Star Wars: Force and Destiny. Both of us could then become players for Metal’s 13 episode “season one” of FATE of Us (a use of the FATE system with a random title, no relation to what he’d run).

When we all complete our “season one,” then what? Well, assuming we are the only ones playing/running seasons, then we return to TitansGrave season two, then Star Wars season two, and FATE season two.

Basically, I’m suggesting we become the HBO of RPGs.

Would Bob fit into this rotation? I’d like to think so. I’d see his games being more “one shot” stuff, maybe being more attuned to “feature length” style games, like a two hour one off… or maybe he’d bring in a system and do the 13 episode season and enter the rotation.

This doesn’t mean we wouldn’t try out other systems being thrown into the mix, either. Maybe after Kevin’s season one I run a 13 episode season of Vampire the Requiem before we get to Metal’s FATE of Us. Maybe Metal adds Numenera into the mix after my TitansGrave season. Hell, maybe we even get another new cohost who jumps into the mix with their own game season and we have a bigger option available to play.

The point of this is that we actually get to play the games. But how would the episodes differ and be as streamlined sounding as I make them?

For the explanation, I’ll be the GM of TitansGrave and I’ll have Kevin, Metal, Tricia, and Bob all as players. Each “episode” would have to be far more focused, as GM I would have to design things to not spend 20 minutes hoping the characters uncover that clue that will lead them to the next stage of the story. The clue would just have to be there, obvious, and lead the characters to the end of the episode so that everything is wrapped up at the end of our session. Cross talk and joking around would have to be minimal, as well as everyone being dedicated to being involved in moving the story forward and utilizing randomization minimally. This might all mean we roll dice less, or that we forego the investigation rolls to get the plot moving forward. We would all have to be very focused on moving forward and telling a story, collaboratively, and getting to the point of each episode… because our time is limited.

This type of gaming lends itself to being recorded, minimally edited, and released as either an “actual play” or the events in story format that are based on the “actual play” (that means I’m eliminating the mechanics and only including the actual story elements for the presentation).

Could we all be that focused? Sure. Would it happen right out of the gate? I wouldn’t expect that to be the case but with each of us being supportive, I think we could definitely get really good at playing episodic adventures.

As the GM, how to I cut up my “formerly epic saga” thinking into smaller chunks? For me, personally, that means taking my “designed as an RPG adventure” story and turning it into a TV drama-like format. Kevin is the mage, Metal is the barbarian, Tricia is the cyborg, and Bob is the half breed tank and each of them has a backstory that I can use to jump to when one of them is missing. Maybe Bob’s erratic appearances mean his tank only shows up in these flashback sessions or maybe he just plays the part of the antagonist in these sessions. If Metal is out at a concert or wedding and can’t make the session, maybe that is the session we see his character’s inability to score a ride to the castle comes out and the others complete the quest without him… or maybe we delve into Kevin’s backstory and tell that one instance where he didn’t save his buddy during a battle.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I can think sage length adventure but I need to have consumable chunks that can be wrapped up relatively quickly while still tying into the overall epic in the background. I’ll have to be more prepared for whatever gets thrown my way as well as being able to improvise the story I’m telling based on who shows up for the session.

That is something I’ve never done before.

Another single topic column in the books. I’m hoping this is a possibility for the future and I’d like to think we could include the full Greatest Show roster to be a part of the adventures… and if we trim down our show time for the Greatest Show to an hour rather than two, we have more time to actually plays these games…

Can I entice Bob to show up for regular gaming sessions? That is the question that plagues me at the moment. We shall see.