Thursday, April 18, 2019

Speedrunning #AprilTTRPGmaker

Ok, I've been keeping up with a few people who've been doing this challenge, and I keep meaning to write it as sorta an intro (because in three months of blogging I've pumped out almost exclusively content), but hell if I'm going to keep to a daily schedule. So here's prompts 1-18. 19-30 will presumably end up posted separately at the end of the month.

1. Introduce yourself. Hi! I'm Lexi (she/her pronouns). I write tabletop games, and have ever since I was introduced to the hobby. I enjoy hard-ish science fiction, body horror, Pratchetty fantasy, and watching my players come up with off-the-wall plans to tackle problems I never prepped for in the first place. I'm still in my undergrad, which I think makes me one of the young'uns in the OSRscape; my first D&D was 4th edition rather than any AD&D/1e/Red Box variant or derivative, so I come from a very different place than much  of the community. Still, it's a rad community with so much raw creativity and conceptual density (check out Joseph Manola's article on the subject for a very good read), and I intend to stick around for a good long while.

2. Describe your work. Almost all of my work is based on Arnold K's Goblin Laws of Gaming, which I have a handy intro to up in the top bar. My own personal hack (because the GLOGosphere is just a network of content and hacks for home games and personal tastes) is Mimics & Miscreants, which takes a chisel to all the bits of RPGs I enjoy, saws them off, and cements them together into 30-odd pages of dungeoncrawling rules with two pages (ish) of random character generation. Lots of my work is riffs on other people's stuff or conversions of existing content or ideas, but there's nothing new under the sun anyway - especially not in a hobby where the most popular systems are literally reformats of the granddaddies of all RPGs.

3. Key to your making process? I joke about it being coffee, but really it's other people. I'm a classic extrovert, and being able to brainstorm, bounce ideas around, hear what other people think works and sounds cool - this all stirs the pot of creativity that sits precipitously atop the hearth of caffeine within my head.

4. Favorite type of game scenario? To run, I love a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. Go in, solve the problems, interact with the things, meet strange creatures and talk with them, stab them in the back, roast them over a campfire, and take their stuff. To play in? I'd love a giant hexcrawl where I go through a character every other week and get to explore a vast world full of curiosities and wonders, all the while finding amusing solutions to difficult problems.

5. Character or worldbuilding? I can't build characters to save my life, especially not in advance. I can improvise NPCs okay, and there's a few archetypes I enjoy, but for this question I have to give it to worldbuilding by default.

6. Long or short ttrpg texts? If I have to run it or play it, it had better be well-organized and I shouldn't have to flip through 20 pages of spells or equipment (or god-help-me lore) to find the one option my character has. Large tomes do make excellent coffee table books, and I do want a giant library of interesting core books to flip through on occasion, but ultimately they just don't fit with my game style. Nice heft, though.

7. How to increase accessibility? Figure out how to write your books in a way that players actually use them. I have a laundry list of complaints that I'd love to send to the President of RPGs, if anyone could give me their number and/or address. First and foremost is making character generation something that can be done without reading the whole book back to front, or, (once again god-help-me), something you need an ENTIRELY SEPARATE FAN-MADE PROGRAM to do properly. Also, mainstream TTRPG industry, it'd be really nice if you could release like $5-$10 reference PDFs instead of $40 three-book sets with art and so much extraneous padded text, I'd probably actually recommend buying your books instead of pirating them.

8. Favorite collaborators? I haven't really collaborated with anyone, though from time to time I've helped other people on the OSR discord hash out mechanics and classes. That's probably my favorite group of people to collaborate with - though they're also the only ones I do, so...

9. How do your games distribute power among players? Mechanically, I really dislike dictating power relations among players beyond "you're all equal, chill". Up front, I tell people that there's no PvP, you've got to hammer out disputes between each other out of character if necessary, and you're working as a collaborative team. In play, I try to keep everyone engaged, asking people if they want to contribute to plans, trying to manage who gets the spotlight, etc - it doesn't always work, but I try to foster a cooperative atmosphere, rather than one with winners and losers. Even character death can mean victory, and with quick chargen it's not as daunting as other games make it seem.

10. How are your games dismantling colonialism? Colonialism is a Really Big Thing and I'd be really, really overselling myself if I said that my games were contributing to its dismantling even in the slightest. Still, I try to keep the more problematic concepts that fantasy has unfortunately reified out of my work - no noble savages or other caricatures of racialized communities, no arbitrary restrictions on character gender/ethnicity/etc, no racism/sexism/homophobia/ableism/transphobia "to make it more realistic"... sometimes it amazes me how much there is to be done, but also how easy the first few steps are. From a position of privilege, there are so many simple things you can question and think critically about to start making the world a better place.

11. Shoutout to an underloved creator! My friend T at Dreams and Fevers got me into the OSR, and they've got fantastic takes on history in RPGs. 

12. How to make work inclusive? There's so much that can be said here, and needs to be said, by lots of people who aren't all me, but here's an easy one: stop using "he or she" and "his or her" in your rulesets and just adopt the singular they. It's shorter, flows better, and actually gender-neutral instead of presuming that your readers fit into the gender binary. Perhaps more importantly, put content warnings up front if you intend for your game to cover triggering concepts (like bigotry, and graphic violence, and sex, and sexual assault, and slavery, and drug use, etc...), and talk with your players beforehand to make sure that your game and their expectations are on the same page. Don't force players to participate in something that makes them viscerally uncomfortable; we're all here to have a good time, and sometimes that means that your gritty realistic dirt farmers setting might need to accommodate female knights and treat people with different skin colors equally, or lose your players.

13. Participate in streamed games? Naah. I've started watching LoadingReadyRun's Bylaw and Order campaign, but that's an exception for some content creators that I absolutely love. Generally speaking, I can't get into watching a dozen 3-hour-long videos of a game system I don't enjoy playing in, of a bunch of people that I can't differentiate the voices of. I enjoy building games, and I enjoy playing them in person - watching others do so doesn't have the same appeal.

14. How are your game mechanics and characters intersectional? Off the top of my head, I'm not sure how you'd make game mechanics intersectional (and as someone who's been studying this stuff for a bit, this question feels like it's just throwing intersectionality in as a buzzword, which I really don't appreciate). Systematizing the interactions between multiple marginalized identities feels like something that A: I'm not the right person to do, and B: is something that would go incredibly wrong incredibly quickly, because mechanical reification of real-life oppression isn't something many people who face those struggles on the daily want in their escapism? Character-wise, you'd be hard-pressed to find a straight NPC in my worlds, but that's just because I have no idea how to RP one believably.

15. Favorite tropes to subvert? I really enjoy making gods with moralities that don't mesh with humanity's very well. They care about things, but you can't get the God of Inexorable Progress to help with your tiny little war when there's some really cool evolutionary conditions in deep sea thaumic vents that are going to yield fascinating creatures in a few dozen million years. Also, picking five fantasy races and four classes that aren't humans/elves/dwarves/orcs/hobbits and fighter/thief/wizard/cleric and making a new world assuming that those are the default.

16. How does your environment inform your work? I'm an undergrad double-majoring in cognitive science and queer studies, so questions of how people think and how systems we create work are constantly on my mind. Combine that with having a whole bunch of close friends IRL who are just as weirdly geeky as I am, and I have a lot of off-the-wall setting concepts and content that end up never seeing the light of blogs. Someday they might, if they ever get more fleshed-out, or if I decide to do a big dump of stuff for other people to pick at.

17. How does your identity influence your work? Looking back to #10 and #12, I wouldn't be putting as much thought into inclusivity and diversity if that wasn't something I had to deal with in my personal life. Experiencing institutional shit and growing up in the wild world of boys-club D&D gave me very clear perspectives on what I don't want anywhere near my tables, and the sort of stories that I want to tell. Sorry if this is vague, but I don't like crossing the streams of venting and content creation - I save the word-vomit about my personal life for my Mastodon account and my group chats.

18. What are some underlying messages in your work? Cooperation is more powerful than competition, more things are edible than you'd expect, people come in all varieties whether or not they're immediately recognizable to you, making bad decisions isn't the end of the world, and with great power comes both great responsibility and great potential for misuse at the expense of both yourself and others.

19-30 coming someday! probably April 30th!

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