My personal History of Roleplaying

Or: What to expect from this Blog

Today I want to talk about how I got into roleplaying, what games I have played over the years and finally what I like in my roleplaying sessions, both system and setting-wise and what you can expect to find on this blog in the future.

Let’s start at the beginning. Contrary to some hardcore players I did not discover P&P-RPGs the moment I first glanced into this world. In fact I only randomly stumbled upon the idea of roleplaying around 8 years ago. Of course had I heard about Dungeons and Dragons and even played a boardgame variant of it, but I never actually considered the more advanced Pen&Paper-Alternative as something worth playing for myself.

The Amber Monolith from Numenera

Numenera

The first game I came in real contact with was Numenera, which I discovered as i was searching through the wild web, finding a live play session of the system. After being enthralled by both the GM (thank you Steven Lumpkin, you started it all), the players and the synergy between all of them, I began watching more and doing some research into roleplaying games. And finally some time later, I decided it was time to try it. A copy of Numenera was brought to a table of friends, and as the tradition demands, I had the honor to GM the game, as I was the one, who suggested it. Some of us had never heard about roleplaying games before, others always wanted to try but never did, so we were all complete beginners.

But we had fun, although we played very irregularly. This went on for nearly 2 to 3 years (as far as I can remember), until the group broke up out of personal reasons. In this time, I made my first experiences being a GM and learned a lot. Learned to hate the system and to love the idea of roleplaying games and GMing (but more on Numenera as a System sometime later). I personally wanted more, and luckily the next chance at roleplaying was right around the corner.

DSA (Das Schwarze Auge/ The Dark Eye)

As I am German, sooner or later, I had to come in contact with the monstrosity, that is DSA. Basically it is the German equivalent of DnD. Soon after my numenera group broke up, I achieved the relationship status of boyfriend, and rather surprisingly my girlfriend was part of a DSA-Group consisting of herself and a few friends. After some time of carefully evaluating the risks of socializing with new people, I joined the group as a player. And to this day we still play with the same group (more or less and even though scheduling is getting worse every year, with people moving and being busier).

The time with DSA was/is difficult and I sometimes found it hard to like the system (but i will reserve most of my thoughts on this, for a separate post) or the stories. And I learned to hate pre-written adventures and campaigns as well as worlds, that are predefined up to the finest details.
But nonetheless I also learned, that sometimes it is more important to just have some friends sitting together at a table and laughing about stuff, than caring too much about the system or story you are playing.
Still I wanted more, and so I went out there to find new systems.

Try-Out-Phase

I started buying a lot of rulebooks, studied systems and settings and tried some of them with different people, sometimes for just one evening, others for a bit longer, but none longer than 2 months. We tried a lot, including Fiasko, Dungeon World, Star Wars – Edge of Empire, Risus, Illaris, Mouse Guard, and Symbaroum.
Most were in one way or the other interesting, offered fun mechanics, immersive worlds, but all were deemed not ideal for my tastes.
But everything changed when the fire nation attacked….
Or rather John Harper and his:

Our Map of Kaltwasser

Blades in the Dark

At first Blades was just another system I wanted to try out, when it first appeared on Kickstarter. But we tried it and somehow it just clicked. The system felt simple enough and still rich and the setting was just phenomenal, especially for a huge Dishonored and Locke Lamorra Fan. And as I had to GM again, I learned a lot more about what I like in my players, in my story, in the characters and how I can make my job easier.

We played Blades for quite a while, roughing up the city districts of Kaltwasser, our German pendant to Duskwall from the original.

Roughly around the same time, Steven Lumpkin, started to GM the West Marches on itmejp’s Twitch Channel, a campaign inspired by Ben Robbins series of blog post.
And additionally I wanted to get more of my friends into roleplaying.

From West Marches to Wildmark

One idea behind the West Marches is the concept of having a world, where groups of players can venture out into the wilderness and find treasures, dangers, riches, and sometimes death. But unlike in a normal setting with one static group of players, the West Marches were conceptualized to work with various different composition of players and their characters, with players potentially having multiple characters. I really liked the idea and it fit my situation. The only problem was the system behind it. Steven used DnD but it was rather obvious for me, that I would not want it, being a fan of more lightweight systems.

The solution was simple in mind, but hard in implementation: My own roleplaying game.
So my girlfriend and I created a system based on Blades in the Dark, but adapted to fit a wilderness setting and West Marches Game. It was and is a lot of researching into other systems, playtesting and constantly changing rules to be better. Up until today it is not completely finished and was partly reworked multiple times, but it works and definitely fulfilled its purpose. We called it Wildmark (which can be translated as Wild Marches), to honor the concept behind it and because it sounded fitting.

Results

Many adventurers ventured into the wild lands of the Wildmark and the flexibility of the player swapping system proved very useful. There rarely were scheduling problems, as a missing player just meant, that we would just play an adventure without this player. So finding a group changed from finding a date where everyone could attend, to finding people, who were available on a given date, which was much easier.

With Wildmark I learned another different method of GMing and especially preparing sessions. And of course I dabbled into the designer aspect of roleplaying games, which I found very interesting and fascinating.
But the best thing about it were all the new players, that found joy in new unexpected hobby and had fun exploring the worlds I created for them and introducing their own ideas and characters into them.

Wildmark Character Sheet

Nowadays

And that is the moment, where we arrive in the last year.
We tried some more games (7th Sea, Dread, Shadowrun), I bought another load of rulebooks, that I will probably never use, but will still read, and developed some more ideas for smaller roleplaying games. They might later feature in a separate post.

At the moment, I am mainly playing Wildmark, an occasional round of DSA, and the rare test round for new systems. (And hopefully some Blades sooner or later again).

What I like:

So based on my history, I want to give a summary of what I learned to like in these years in regards to setting, story, and system.

Setting

I generally like fantasy, even though I tend to dislike High Fantasy and lean more towards a darker, more twisted fantasy (good examples being the Witcher-Series and the West Marches Campaign mentioned above).
Another favorite of mine is everything close to Steampunk or Pseudo-Industrialization, as these settings inherently feel very atmospheric (examples being Dishonored, Blades in the Dark) .

Story

I learned to hate pre-written campaigns or adventures, mostly from the time I was/am personally playing in one. Especially if they are about wide-reaching long stories. The reason is the loss of character or player agenda. The campaign basically has a set of goals, which it wants the players to accomplish to tell its story and most of the time is very fixed and rigid in its ways. Consequently it is hard for the players to do what their characters want or explore their characters, because the campaign just doesn’t allow many deviations (that go over a certain degree). (But this might be the focus for another post). Not using pre-written stuff also allows for a more player and character focused story, as the motivations, fears and concepts of the player’s characters can be included.

Additionally, I am not a huge fan of heroic stories. Of course, some moments of heroism are welcomed here and there, but the typical cliche story of saving the world from the big bad evil guy just feels boring. I would rather look at smaller problems on a smaller scale and look at the way the character solves it, especially if the decision is not heroically clean cut.
Summarizing, I like character driven, self-created stories, that are on a small scope and do not focus on cliche problems.

System

I described many systems I played and I read even more, which I will probably never play, and you might have recognized a tendency towards the more simple systems, that still offer enough mechanics to not drift too much into the realm of pure storytelling games.
Or formulated differently: If all roleplaying games were on a range from narrative Improv-Theater to Warsimulation, you would find me somewhere on the left side, but not right at the range end

This Blog

So what is this blog all about?
Well, I want to do three and a half things:

  • Ramble about roleplaying systems
  • Talk about my experiences and thoughts about GMing
  • Collect ideas and useful information for GMs
  • Random Thoughts

The first point will include some analysis of decision systems in games, both mathematically as well as intuitively.

For the second point, I will share my personal opinion on GMing-topics or how to handle certain situations as a GM.

The third point will include ideas for encounters, traps, NPCs, useful cheat sheets for GMs for certain situations or information, that may come in handy while playing.

The fourth point will probably entail short thoughts about whatever is on my mind and is related to roleplaying.

If you have any ideas, thoughts, criticism about the blog, the content of a post or other stuff that you think I might be interested in, leave a comment or write a mail at info@nightmaresundertrees.de.

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