Let’s do this:
Fictoplasm is a podcast about fiction and roleplaying games. Each episode we talk about a book we like, then we talk about the games we’d like to run based on the ideas in the book — maybe picking up the setting wholesale, maybe just cherry-picking tropes and world-building bits.
The first episode discusses Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Coming up is Garth Nix’ Sabriel, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, followed by some Le Guin, Moorcock, Zelazny, Christopher Priest, J. G. Ballard, Mary Gentle, Octavia Butler and more.
Baby wrangling means that our recording schedule will likely be erratic, and the first episodes will likely sound a bit ropey as we get the hang of room acoustics and Audacity. But, it’s a thing.
RSS feed: http://www.fictoplasm.net/feed/podcast
Hardcover, softcover, digital, what’s your preference?
I’m a huge fan of electronic books — portable, carry on multiple devices, searchable, easy to store. But sadly electronic RPGs have not always kept up with modern technology — large format RPGs with multiple columns are very poor for iPads and useless for my Kindle. I’m not at all satisfied with my Feng Shui 2 pdf since it’s not printer-friendly and not tablet friendly either. Some publishers are getting it — Kevin Crawford’s recent releases of Sine Nomine titles have included epub, and a lot of small press publishing is in digest format which is well suited to the tablet (e.g. LotFP).
The main value of electronic books are getting hold of OOP copies. These days I’m going back to hard copies, a lot of PoD. Right now I’m waiting for a softcover copy of Courtney Campbell’s Perdition (with illustrations by Russ Nicholson, woo!).
What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?
Aside from all the friends I’ve made — more numerous and diverse and for longer than any other hobby — the thing RPGs have helped with is social confidence. This in turn has helped leadership and facilitation skills. There’s a reason why role-playing is used in business and leadership training. It puts you in a challenging situation, with identifiable win or lose conditions, but without the risk. I’ve used it as facilitator, interviewer, and trainee.
Being a player helps you learn active listening, lateral thinking, and social skills that you otherwise wouldn’t try out because the stakes are too high. Being a GM encourages you to think about the stakes of a situation, the consequences of success or failure, and even long-term scenario planning.
Of course you can get those skills elsewhere, but if you think about it roleplaying exercises a huge range of creative muscles. In fact that’s true of games generally. Games make great martial arts warm-ups, teaching a whole lot of complementary skills whilst making you sweat.
Role-playing is good for you, and games are good for you.
Most amazing thing a game group did for their community?
We lost one friend to cancer back when we were all in our mid-20s. So my friends organised the Gold Team games, which were a set of semi-competitive rpgs (a tournament I suppose) where we paid for entry, and the proceeds were donated to the charity.
We lost another friend much more recently. She’d been at the heart of our wider gaming family since the start. In her memory one of my friends ran a total of 100k over several races to raise money for mental health charities.
The activities for charity are very nice, but it’s my friends that are amazing.
what story does your group tell about your character?
We were playing fairly high-level D&D in a homebrew setting of the GM’s, generally travelling between neighbouring kingdoms. When we settled in one place — let’s call it Fielfland — my PC decided he liked the look of the King’s daughter after blagging his way into a state ball. But she was promised to a royal from a neighbouring country called Gullivier, and she had every intention of going through it for the sake of the economic union. So what my PC did was go around the Fielfland countryside stirring up anti-Gullivierian sentiments while also claiming that fair Fielfland would be better to break away from its neighbours, who wrought terrible taxes and behaved just as they liked to Fielfland’s dismay (not really true, but it worked).
What I wanted to do was position my PC as an advisor at court, but instead the King, seeing the will of the people, chose to abdicate. Then the people immediately suggested I should marry the Princess. I also discovered that the kingdom was nearly bankrupt. It was a pretty masterful move by the GM.
So instead the whole party fled. But for months after my character was pursued through the kingdoms with posters from one Sir Ewan, one of Fielfland’s younger nobles. The best thing was that the players mocked up one of the posters for me:
Yeah, you couldn’t make it up
Most impressive thing another’s character did?
I’m not impressed by other people’s characters, I’m impressed by the players.
There’s one story I heard about a guy playing a 24 hour zombie outbreak LARP who got attacked in the shower. The GM timed out and gave him the option to get dressed a bit before resuming as a zombie; he said no thanks, and just shambled about in a shower curtain with his bum out. That’s commitment.
Character moment you’re most proud of?
I struggled to imagine what achievement of a fictional character I would feel proud about. I think maybe the only thing you can be proud about, is being true to the character and the situation you’re in, even if it’s at some other cost. Being a hero when it means certain death is obvious. Being a coward when it fits the plot? Maybe that’s something to be proud about, as a player. That has long-term consequences for character self-image and social fallout.
Some of my favourite moments have been playing dwarves. It was juvenile but satisfying to roleplay going outside and taking a piss in an alley. The GM said he’d never had a player do that, and describe it in such detail. It was like getting a gold star.
Another dwarf was a cross between Tyrion Lannister and Dr Frank N. Furter; a merchant captain ferrying the rest of the PCs (every one of whom was a member of a royal family travelling incognito). I was allowed a magical item, and I invented a potion that I kept in a heart-shaped bottle around my neck. One drop for love, two drops for truth, three drops for death. The best thing about it was the way the GM gave me opportunities to use it and I took them. Each time it was like a dare. I did some terrible, terrible things.
It was tremendous fun, but maybe not something to be proud of.
Best game session since Aug 2015?
There hasn’t been that much time for playing over the last year, but I did run Blades in the Dark quickstart for some local friends who are generally very traditional in their RPG consumption. More importantly we had one person who’d never played at all.
Everyone got on with it. They liked the playbooks, they got the stress economies, they understood downtime. The biggest hitch was getting the idea that no, you don’t need to plan the heist in advance, you use the flashback mechanics.
This raises the question about the need for introductory games. Certainly some games are complex enough that they’re hard on new players, but generally new players aren’t viewing a system critically — they’re looking for a way to participate with another group of people, so learning the system is a cost they’re willing to play to be part of the culture.
Blades isn’t the easiest game — it tripped up some of the experienced players too — but it is a game, and it is consistent, and our newbie learned fast.
I had exactly the same outcome with a new player playing Penny For My Thoughts. They had no trouble at all. What seems to matter is
- the rest of the players want them to participate, so the reward for participating is greater than the cost of learning
- the game is consistent, with outcomes they can predict and an order of play they can follow
- the game has good handout material on the table that reinforces consistency
Real dice, dice app, diceless… how do you prefer to roll?
Over lunch today someone started talking about sexing infant chickens. Apparently it’s a highly paid job that requires three years training, and a qualified chicken sexer can feel the millimeter difference that indicates the presence or absence of testes in a fraction of a second.
I don’t know if they wear special gloves. Anyway
Dice are part of the analog ritual of gaming. Even if you’re not using dice, everyone has to rock up with their dice tin, select their favourite dice and set them down in some pattern of personal significance. Occasionally they’ll pick them up, weigh them in their hand and listen to the clack-clack of high impact plastics gently knocking together in their palm. When they roll they ball a fist around them, holding them firmly but not tightly (as though they were a little bird, just as many fencing masters have told their students how to grip a fleuret), and pound the fist up and down vigorously before the release, watching them make little puddles on the table. Or carpet.
Of course, the only dice a gentleman needs, and the only one you should use, is a six-sided die with spots. Anything with numerals or a different number of sides is unforgivably gauche (and the same goes for propelling pencils; your pencils should be wood and graphite, sharpened to a respectable point). Spots have the advantage of rapid communication of the results, particularly where the alternatives (such as a handful of d10s) results in tedious hunting and pecking for successes. And cubes with gently rounded corners feel comfortable and snug in the hand, while the vertices of a d10 may prick a soft and tender palm. Six-siders are good enough for the very finest games including Ghostbusters, Over the Edge and Lace and Steel and their inclusion in PbtA games is eminently sensible.