RPGaDay week 1

RPGaDay 2022 prompts

RPGaDay is back for the 9th year. After the previous couple of years being fairly abstract prompts, this year they have returned to very directed questions. You can see them all in the graphic.

I’m not sure how relevant some of the questions later are to me, but I’ll make a start anyway…

…and I’m taking advantage of starting late to collect several answers together where they all fit a theme. I’ll probably collect most of my answers into roughly weekly posts.

The first week questions all relate to starting RPGs.

Day 1: Who would you like to introduce to RPGs

That’s easy. Anyone who is interested. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last year and a bit running introductory sessions for different groups, and both I and (I think) the players have had fun.

I have run an introductory adventure for a couple of different groups I found through the D&D Scotland Discord group. They have a “beginners-one-shots” channel along with a lot of other channels for different games.

Since the group came from all over Scotland, I had people as far north as Elgin and a farmhouse near Aberdeen, along with Dunfermline, Glasgow and here in Edinburgh. With such a widely scattered group, it clearly had to be online, but since this was at the point that Covid restrictions were only just starting to be relaxed that was fine. I had already started to get familiar with online gaming for my main campaign, settling on FoundryVTT as the platform, so that was the obvious way to run these games.

We had great fun, and it was nice to meet these people. I would gladly have welcomed some of them to my regular table, but unfortunately the days didn’t work out.

This year I have also run a face-to-face table for Red Dice Games. It was a rotating cast of players, which finally settled on a mother and son plus one other.

I have also met people through ORC – the Edinburgh Open Roleplaying Community – and now they have started up an Edinburgh branch of Roleplaying Haven.

I ran the same adventure for each – The Angry GM’s “The Fall of Silverpine Watch” – and it has been interesting seeing how different the adventure is with different players, even though the content is identical.

Day 2: What is a great introductory RPG?

Well, I only know Dungeons and Dragons, and that’s my interest. I like the whole swords and sorcery setting, and it’s the story I’m interested in, so I don’t feel the need to explore different sets of mechanics. Only having time to prepare for and play one 2-hour session every two weeks means I need to keep my focus on the story and not go exploring other mechanics.

Having said that, I have played two different editions. The current fifth edition, and the BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortals) boxed sets.

Of the two, BECMI is definitely simpler to learn and has fewer mechanics. Whether this is good or bad is obviously a matter of taste. I know there are many people who love the complexity of lots of different options, and fifth edition with all its additional source books definitely caters for these people. However, as I said, for me it’s about the story and the setting, and I actively dislike the vast variety of playable races and the continual addition to canon.

I have my setting, based on rich world of Mystara from the BECMI gazetteers, and my campaigns all develop the history there. I don’t need to go steampunk or into space – I’ve still got so many stories to tell in Mystara.

BECMI Basic Players Manual
BECMI Basic Players Manual

But I’ve strayed off topic. Where was I?

Oh yes, BECMI versus fifth edition.

Well, BECMI is simple, at least to start with. There are four basic classes – Fighter, Magic User, Cleric and Thief – and the demi-humans are implemented as additional classes where Dwarf is basically a Fighter with some extra resistances and mining skills, Halfling is a Fighter with extra resistances and some hiding ability, and Elf is a combined Fighter/Magic User. There are fewer fancy options, so picking up how to play the character is relatively simple. Other classes like Druid do exist, but only come in at later levels.

Having said that, there are complications. It is from before the d20 simplification, so everything works differently. Armour Class descends from a base of 9, so a lower number is better, and you have to roll your d20, add your modifier, and then check against a table to see if you’ve hit. Saving throws you need to roll the appropriate number or higher.

Spell casting is the blackboard version – you can memorise a certain number of spells each day, and once cast, it’s gone, rubbed away. So if you want to be able to cast Magic Missile twice, you have to use two of your spell slots for Magic Missile.

And experience is complicated – each class has a different experience table, so thieves (based off 1200 for level 2) progress much faster than other classes (1500 for cleric, 2000 for fighter and halfling, 2200 for dwarf, 2500 for magic user and 4000 for elf). Every gp value of treasure found is worth 1xp, and 80% of experience is expected to come from treasure, so players are forced to plunder to progress.

On the other hand, fifth edition has twelve classes (thirteen if you include Artificer from Tasha’s), with lots of variants of each, and over 50 playable races (from a quick scroll through on D&D Beyond just now). Even the basic Players Handbook has nine races. So many options just to get started! There are also all the backgrounds and the different skills which have different uses (and encourage shopping around – “I’m proficient in animal handling. How can I use this here?”

However, it uses the d20 system. Everything is based on “roll d20, add your modifiers and if you have the required number or more you succeed.” Everyone uses the same XP table, and it’s just earned by doing things, which gives more flexibility in how it can be awarded. Spellcasting uses charges of spell-casting power, so you can memorise a variety of spells without having to be sure how many times you will want to use each. Memorising Detect Magic doesn’t affect how many times you can cast Magic Missile.

BECMI is renowned for being deadlier, particularly at lower levels, which can be off-putting. 5e is also noted for being deadly at level 1 or 2, but there are so many things which make it more survivable – death saving throws, overnight healing. In fact, to my mind it actually goes too far the other way with healing. If you can just go to sleep and all injuries are wiped out, there are far fewer consequences for being reckless. But 5e also has attack of opportunity, which makes it harder to get out of a fight and encourages slugging it out to the death.

However, 5e is also the one that the most people know, and is the most transferable, so from that point of view it is probably the better version to start with unless you know everyone is only going to play at the same table.

Having said all that, as long as the DM/GM knows sufficiently what they are doing, what I always say to new players is “it’s simple. I’ll describe a situation. Imagine you’re in the situation and tell me what you want to do. I’ll work out the mechanics and tell you whether it’s possible, and what to do next.”

From the point of view of a first adventure, the aforementioned “The Fall of Silverpine Watch” was designed by The Angry GM as an introduction to D&D fifth edition, and it’s available free from his site. It builds things up gradually – role playing, a basic combat, some encounters which build on particular skills, some clues and investigation, and then the main scenario which again is structured to take the players through different situations and build their confidence and repertoire. In my experience it usually takes 3-4 2-3 hour sessions to complete.

Day 3 – when were you first introduced to RPGs?

I’ll take this as part of week two, along with the other prompts about getting started.

Day 4: Where would you host a first game?

Wherever works… As I said on Day 1, I’ve done both online and at Red Dice Games in Leith. I really depends where the players are.

In some ways online is easier because you don’t have to worry about getting there, but there always seem to be technical complications, and it all feels just that bit slower with more friction, so I do prefer the immediacy of face-to-face.

I’d like to try getting involved in the Edinburgh Branch of the RolePlay Haven, but they meet on Wednesdays, and I am busy running dancing that night…

Day 5: Why will they like this game?

Who could not enjoy D&D? (Okay, my wife and daughter for two…)

People having a first game with me will enjoy it because I focus on the fun and the story, while still keeping enough of a grasp on the rules that it’s not just make-believe. I’ll probably be running The Fall of Silverpine Watch, which I’ve run several times now, and it introduces the skills gradually, provides interesting challenges and puzzles, and gives a sense of achievement when successfully completed.

I try not to take it too seriously, and don’t expect them to know the rules – I see it as part of my job to stay on top of them and bring them in as the players need them. So there’s low pressure (apart from the pressure introduced by the situation and the story) and the players can focus on being their characters, working through the situation, and having fun with it.

Day 6: How can we get more people playing RPGs?

Ah, the perennial question which every group asks… We have the same question with Scottish Country Dancing, and it’s rather more urgent for us.

I keep seeing more people asking for games, who I would love to accommodate but can’t, so I think there isn’t too much of a problem. The various Discord communities I am part of are so busy I can’t keep up with the conversations – even just overnight – and similarly the Twitterverse. I think the play livestreams helps raise the awareness very well, and actually we don’t have too much of a problem.

Day 7: Describe a cool part of a system that you love

Wow – that’s definitely a blog post in itself. I’ll take it separately, and probably later out of order. I’ve been planning for a while to talk about the BECMI War Machine mass combat rules, and this is the perfect prompt for that.

So that’s week one (and we’re already into day 9/week 2). Come back in a few days for my week 2 compilation.

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