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How to Have a Banner Year in Tabletop Roleplaying

When I saw that today’s RPGaDay prompt was “banner”, the first thing that popped into my head was this:

“You know what I got for Christmas this year? It was a banner f%@$in’ year at the old Bender family. I got a carton of cigarettes. The old man grabbed me and said ‘Hey. Smoke up Johnny.'”

John Bender (Judd Nelson), The Breakfast Club

While I’d love to do an examination of The Breakfast Club as an example of both adventuring party and game group dynamics, I feel I used up my goodwill for broadly interpreting a prompt when I used “stack” to talk about Unsolved Mysteries. So I’ll keep things to a dull roar here and talk about the expression “a banner year”.

2020 is clearly not a banner year for most people. Conventions cancelled, releases delayed, a lot of people not able to meet face-to-face for regular home sessions. We’ll just skip over this part. So forget that I mentioned it.

When I have run long campaigns, I have asked players what would constitute a banner year for their characters. What would it look like, for them to accomplish everything they wanted? Tell me what they’re personal “happily ever after” is. Then I can plan out some character arcs, and we can work together to get them there.

Because some of the campaigns I’ve run have turned into group therapy sessions, I have sometimes asked players the same question about themselves. What do you want from your life, and how does being in this campaign help you to get that? Tell me about your ideal banner year.

Whether we’re having a banner year or not, we’re all in this hobby for a reason. It might be creative expression. It could be for friendship. Most of us, especially this year, need some escapism that isn’t passively binge-watching something on Netflix, Disney+, or HBO Max. It doesn’t have to give us our best year ever. All it has to do is give us some good moments, now and then.

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How to Have a Banner Year in Tabletop Roleplaying

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Optimal Session Length: Players Need Rest Too

When I was much younger and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, we would have marathon roleplaying sessions. Things would kick off on Friday after dinner, and continue until late Sunday afternoon. Everyone would sleep over, because high school, but if we were all awake we were playing. Somehow we managed to function on ridiculously little rest.

In college I had a different group, but everyone has slowed down. Anything over around 6 hours began to fall apart. People got punchy, too tired to focus, and it stopped being fun. We had to set a specific end point for session, because we knew it wasn’t worth pushing on past a certain point.

By my late twenties, the people in my group only wanted to meet on weekend afternoons. In after lunch, out before dinner. Nights weren’t even part of the discussion. During the week we all had to go to work. Even on weekends, there was other stuff to do. We couldn’t use up all of our energy on tabletop roleplaying.

Somewhere between youthful exuberance and the decrepitude of late middle age, there is an optimal session length. That amount of time that lets you get in a fair amount of encounters and storytelling before you need to rest. Just enough time put in to be satisfying, before the law of diminishing returns sets in.

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Optimal Session Length: Players Need Rest Too

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Why a Setting with a Message Creates Peak Escapism

This somehow isn’t a popular opinion, but I like when there’s a message in my tabletop roleplaying. I like settings and adventures to be about something. Let me allegorically fight for a cause. Allow me to express my values through a fictional character. Help me to vicariously deal with real-world issues in the form of escapist entertainment.

I stay off of nerd social media because I got tired of the whole “stop using the thing you created to push your political agenda” crap. As if art hasn’t always been political. It wouldn’t surprise me if we someday learned that the Lascaux cave paintings in France turned out to be some sort of prehistoric protest graffiti.

“Oh no, creators are using comics and games and novels and TV shows and movie and photographs and illustrations and plays and music and (takes a deep breath) so on to express their thoughts and feelings about the world around them! Say it isn’t so!  If I have to learn about the lived experiences of people different than me, I might die!”

“Wait, people of color are writing about race issues! Women are writing about women’s issues! LGBTQ+ people are writing about LGBTQ+ issues! Health care workers are writing about health care issues! Puerto Ricans are writing about Puerto Rican issues! Where will this madness end! Other people existing is an attack on my existence!”

I say this with all of the politeness and professionalism I can muster: Just shut up already.

More voices means more people at the table, literally and metaphorically. It’s a big table with plenty of room for everyone. The problem is when there isn’t any room in hearts and minds for diverse opinions, representation, and new ideas. P

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Why a Setting with a Message Creates Peak Escapism

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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How Unsolved Mysteries Helped Me Find My GM Voice

Today’s RPGaDay word prompt is “stack”. What definition of the word is meaningful to my own tabletop roleplaying experiences? Can bonuses be added together? Will poker chips or other tokens pile up? Something about the host of the original Unsolved Mysteries television series, Robert Stack?

I’m going to go with the last one. Because this challenge is open to interpretation, so I can.

Yes, Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries

Over the years I have developed what I call my “guide voice”. When I’m narrating scenes for players, they know it means they need to pay attention. I’m describing important things. It’s different from my “what is your character” doing voice, or any voices I use for supporting characters. I hit upon this voice from watching shows with a lot of voice-over work, including Unsolved Mysteries. For a couple of campaign, I had a loop of incidental music that I played to go along with it. Just to heighten the effect.

The first campaign I used it for was an espionage game, not unlike DoubleZero. At first it was a flashback mechanism; I used the voice of the player characters’ boss. They were in the field, but I was narrating what he had told them back in the office before the adventure began. It was a way to get directly into the action.

Having a specific voice — not so much an impression, as a cadence and tone –used only for narration worked well. If I was reading the “flavor text” from a published adventure, they knew that it was official information, not me riffing. It helped to keep things interesting, and got the players to refocus if there was starting to be too much table talk.

Robert Stack had great voice for it. Peter Graves was a close second. It was forceful and dramatic, without lapsing into camp or hammy overacting. There was a serious to it, but he could also be a bit tongue-in-cheek for some of the more outlandish stories.  Consider trying something like this out with your group.

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How Unsolved Mysteries Helped Me Find My GM Voice

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Weighing What You Want Against Player Expectations

“I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that.”

David Bowie, 1997 interview

I write systems and settings that I want to play, but don’t already exist. They’re created based on my preferred style of play, and the parts of tabletop roleplaying that I enjoy most. The tools that I create are things I use for building characters, worlds, and adventures. They’re all the products that I would buy, if I weren’t the one making them. My own expectations take precedence over other peoples’. These are the things I want.

Of course, these aren’t the things everyone wants. That’s okay. I’m fine with no creating monstrous, expensive hardcover books. That’s not the problem I’m solving for. As a consumer, I can’t afford that stuff. As a minimalist, I don’t have the space for it in my apartment. PDFs and eBooks are better choices for me. I’m not making things in a format that I wouldn’t buy.

This naturally means that people constantly tell me I’m doing it wrong. According to whom? I’m happy with the things I write. I’m making a modest living at it. That’s all I want. And at some point, that’s also really all I need.

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Enter your email address to receive notifications of new releases, products in development, and other news and updated from Dancing Lights Press by email.

Weighing What You Want Against Player Expectations

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.