Archive for the 'Thoughts' Category

Day 100: The Bitter End.

November 4, 2009

Well, here we are, 100 days. This is a bitter pill for me; I had goals and hopes for a new project, and frankly, most of them didn’t work out, and while most of that wasn’t within my control, I know I made several crucial mistakes. Tag’s Folly was supposed to be a way for me to game more frequently and meet new people, provide gamers in Toronto with something they wanted, and prove that I could take on a big project on top of everything else that I do.

What follows is my postmortem.

What worked:

  1. The daily blogging schedule.
  2. Meeting new gamers.
  3. Getting more games in.

What didn’t work:

  1. I had the impression that there was a big pent-up demand for D&D 4e GMing; as it turned out there was … a little, and with a bunch of work you could get a group together.  But it wasn’t easy, as I’d hoped it would be, and that meant it took a long time for any of the organizers that did step up to schedule a session.
  2. I  didn’t get the rush of enthusiasm I was hoping for; everyone who organized sessions – and I appreciate their work – expressed that wasn’t really that much fun compared to how hard it was to get people together.  In some cases that meant straight drop-offs, leaving me with the task of “selling” the game to people to find organizers.
  3. The 4e ruleset, played by the book and prepped in advance is not conducive to a low-key campaign, and thus the 4e game would never be a self-sustaining organism.
  4. GTA transit kind of sucks; people just can’t get around, and when I run a game and have to spend 2 hours getting home, it hurts pretty bad.
  5. Real life threw me a few curveballs, particularly on the family and work side, and that derailed me pretty seriously.  Of course I set out on this trajectory when things were looking up, and when things got turbulent, and then outright sucktacular, I had to rein something in.  Unfortunately by the time that happened, the 4e campaign was the only thing in my life that I could really rein in.

What I learned:

  1. D&D is a game for people with basements, cars, and a lot more spare time than I have.
  2. When you get your name out there for running a game like this, all your old gamer friends remember you and start inviting you to their games.  You can quickly become a victim of your own success.
  3. A general appraisal of risks is a good idea even for personal projects.
  4. I hate prep that doesn’t get into a session right away.
  5. 4th edition is a better drill and a worse omnitool than previous editions.   It’s much harder to get it to do something different without hacking the rules, and the rules are much harder to hack.
  6. West Marches games are social monsters; there are a lot of uncharted social waters that you wade into and unless you’re a real extrovert, it will be stressful to run them.  This goes doubly for strangers.

Day 82: Take 10 attack!

October 17, 2009

I’m seriously considering allowing players to Take 10 on attack rolls as another game-quickener that doesn’t affect the character sheet.

Also, from here on out the questions you ask in your Take 10s will become topics of daily blog posts.  I’ll start giving them a Take 10 category and tag.

Day 79: Fairies and Frailties

October 14, 2009

Yak, Connor, and Aiden have completed their frantic and brilliant quest – Echo Park is safe, the wraithdragon imprisoned, and the families restored to something like prosperity.  That game was really cool, and it included my favorite session yet as a player.  Highlights can be found at John’s blog.

But I’m going to talk for a second about the stuff that we wouldn’t highlight.  My back is sore and it makes me critical, so here’s the stuff that we need to work on as players.


Peter takes a while to get into a character – he mentioned as much after one of the games, and that’s why we’re looking at doing some longer-arc games.   I think Peter would be better served by a slightly more character-focused character creation, where we specifically took a few minutes to think about how the character acts and thinks rather than just jumping into other elements of the character’s situation.  Mouse Guard may be illuminating, with its Beliefs, Goals, and Instincts, and I also think Peter would be well-served by games that deliberately bring in more tensions with characters who relate to both Peter and another character.


Mike is awesome, and Connor had a fabulous character arc where he went from stuttering, brilliant background faery to charging up the dragon’s back to poke it in the eye.  Mike is really great to game with because he really follows the cues of the people at the table, but he should feel free to get more up in our faces and lead or make trouble for us.  This might be because he’s played alchemists, quiet gay bartenders, and helpful house elves. Now I’m dying to see Mike play someone who is really assertive – like a screaming Barbarian or a vortex wizard.


John did an awesome job GMing, especially since this was the first time he GM’d something that wasn’t strictly prepared with a follow-the-leader style of play.  The game was awesome, especially the second session, where stuff really started to happen.  John’s biggest issue was pacing – and I think we saw that the most in the difference between session 1 and 2 vs. 3 and 4.  The game was sweet, and the fiction held together nicely, but I did find that we felt a bit lost in session 3 and parts of 4, and we rushed a bit towards the end of session 4.  This stuff is massively wrapped up in fictional details, and of course it’s as much me playing a horn at the wrong times.

So I suggest a techniques for John treats the session as an episode, or as a part of a miniseries.  That means trying to kick the situation in the junk at the beginning of a session, and right at the very end, rather than waiting for the fiction to offer an opening. If the situation is already volatile, then set something off, and if it’s not volatile enough then bring in the players to write new kickers.

Generally, though, I just want to play in John’s Sorcerer game.


As for me, I’m a HUGE spotlight hog.  I really get enthusiastic and jump around, to the point where I start making the game “about” my character, which isn’t cool.  I try to pull back, but honestly I know I’m too loud and too in-your-face with my character.  I get frustrated when things aren’t moving, and I like to take control – even if that means punching a wasp’s nest.  Sometimes that’s cool, and I think it worked in the last couple of games – but I don’t pay attention enough to whether or not it’s cool.  I also have a hard time with characters that are supposed to be laid-back – basically, they’re not.

Also, I think I’m some kind of authority on how to play RPGs.  That’s gotta be frustrating.

Day 77: TAG Drama

October 12, 2009

Sandy got mad.

Sandy realized he posted in haste.

Sandy felt better.

Sandy had to cancel on In A Wicked Age.

Ryan got mad.

Ryan got to play In A Wicked Age anyway.

Ryan felt better.

What’s the lesson here?  Don’t post while angry.  Both Sandy and I already know this, but did we do it? Nope.

Did I act any smarter because Sandy had just gone through the same thing?  Nope.

People criticize the Dalai Lama for talking about things like “be nice to people” and “practice compassion in your daily life.”  People complain that this kind of stuff is in any Sunday school pamphlet, or the boy scout handbook.  People complain that such a highly focusing figure is telling us stuff we’ve heard before.

But clearly, we still need to hear it.  Can you really say we’ve all got the whole basic “be nice to people” thing down cold?  Are you as caring, responsible, clear-headed, and generous as you could be?  Are you resilient against things that bother you – can you stay caring, responsible, clear-headed, and generous when you’re having a bad day, or when someone is yelling at you? I do what I can, but I definitely could be better.  I really don’t see those qualities reflected in the media or the people we give power to.

The Dalai Lama keeps talking about the same stuff because he recognizes that we all could stand to work on the basics.

The moral of this story is: We’re human, we make mistakes, we pick up and try to do better.  Meanwhile, we’ll keep practicing the basics.

Day 76: Burnout warning light is amber

October 11, 2009

So basically the level of gaming I’ve had lately, and a whole lot of stuff going on in my real life job, have combined to push me to the point of burning out.  I have to get through Thanksgiving with the extended family tomorrow, and once I’m done with that I can take a break.  I’m off work for a week, and I’m also taking this week away from gaming (except for a boardgame on the Hill, which Peter is bringing).

I have to say that prepping Tag’s Folly always weighs heavily, just because there is so much that a GM has to prep if they’re doing an encounter “right” – for example, before I consider an encounter done, I need to have these ready in an encounter envelope (copied from what I said to Dave earlier):

  1. 3 or so map pages (at least 1 drawn already, the other 2 gridded)
  2. Some kind of reference for terrain features
  3. Initiative cards for each monster type (that I made and cut out)
  4. Printed out statblocks for each monster (that I cut out)
  5. Printed out cards with treasure for the encounter
  6. The tokens for the monsters
  7. Cards with the status effects relevant to the encounter to hand to players when they get tagged with them
  8. A card that lists monster types and defenses so the players don’t have to tell me they hit

All of that is of course contingent on writing a good encounter to begin with, with sufficiently interesting terrain (long grass, poisoned ponds, big boulders to stand on, etc.)

I missed a few of those elements in the encounters that we did last time we played at Ryerson, and I definitely felt they were missing. When I started Tag’s Folly I thought I’d be able to do most of the prep during my 10 hours a week spent on the train, but assembling those envelopes means I need to be at home with all the stuff I bought, so it eats into my very premium home time.