Lew was Contributing Editor to Dragon, White Dwarf, and Space Gamer magazines and contributed monsters to TSR's original Fiend Folio, including the Elemental Princes of Evil, denzelian, and poltergeist. You can follow Lew on his web site and his Udemy course landing page.
I've been talking about good ways to devise RPG monsters for tabletop games (See "Just Say No to Boss Monsters"). In the previous installment we covered the unknown, unusual characteristics, monsters that cooperate, and critters with combined characteristics. But there are many other ways to surprise your players with monsters, ranging from misdirection to item-stealers to relentless hordes.
Many people try to design really tough monsters for RPGs, but that’s often a consequence of the boss monster mentality, suitable for computers, not tabletop. I like to focus on surprising the players, and here’s how.
The Mighty Jingles (on YouTube) described what he really disliked about Far Cry 5 New Dawn (video game). The game took away player control at vital junctures. I wonder how often this happens in RPGs, and offer some reasons why it does. With a poll!
In my articles from the early 1980s I often characterized the typical D&Der as a hoodlum (hood). You may know them by many other names: ruffian, bully boy, bully, bandit, mugger, gangster, terrorist, gunman, murderer, killer, hitman, assassin, hooligan, vandal, and more. Has anything changed?
Lanchester’s Power [Linear and Square] Laws mean that combat in science fiction RPGs will usually be fundamentally different than combat in fantasy RPGs. Or the designer will have to somehow compensate, as in Star Wars.
The most widespread (by far) RPG has been Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), though in quite different forms. And Dungeons & Dragons tends to be dominated by magic users, or more broadly, spell casters. Why is that?
“Player agency” refers to the player being allowed by the game to do things in the game that have real consequences to the long-term course, and especially the result, not just for succeeding or failing. Some campaigns offer a lot, some only a little. Are players just following the script or do they have the opportunity to make decisions that cause their long-term results to be significantly different from another player’s?
I’m a categorizer and always have been. Categorization leads to illumination, but the danger in categorizing is that every play style might seem to fit only the extremes of each category. In this article, I try to categorize the various RPG styles of play in a logical manner.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Silmarilion set a fashion for fictional civilizations lasting many millennia without much technological or social change. This worked for the literature, but rarely makes sense for games.
I was editing an old (1984) adventure I’d written, in order to include it in reprints of my articles from back then, when it occurred to me that adventures often have particular cores, a particular “something” that makes them go. The idea is to build the adventure around the core. It’s “the star of the show” in other words.
In the early 1980s I wrote a column in Dragon Magazine called “The Role of Books.” I described nonfiction books so that Dragon readers could decide whether to read them as a source of ideas. But people have changed how they their ideas and inspiration.
How much detail do you need to know to run a particular setting in FRPG? Some settings have about the detail level of comic books, some are more detailed such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels or Lord of the Rings (LOTR), some have settings as detailed as the Game of Thrones show. Can you explain your RPG setting in just six words?
Commercial RPGs have existed for some 45 years. Where RPG ideas are concerned, there's not much new under the sun. Then why do people keep writing new RPGs? It's a LOT of work, even if you don't do it well. I think of composer Sir William Walton's remark after writing his only opera: "don't write an opera. Too many notes." Change that to "RPG" and "words" and you have my point of view. We're also going to try something different, and offer a reader’s poll.
You may benefit, as a GM, from understanding where your players stand in the spectrum from Romantic to Classical game player. The terms derive from music and philosophy. I discussed one point of view about game playing styles in an earlier column ("Different look at playing styles"). This one is much older in origin.
It is virtually impossible to protect game ideas, but virtually no idea is new. On rare occasions someone deliberately copies someone else’s game, but game designers cannot worry about this: they have to talk to publishers, funding sources, and other people about their games.
I was watching a game played with a dice pool, and could see that the GM was waiting for the dice roll and then deciding by what felt right, rather than having any kind of precise resolution. How precise are the RPG rules themselves, and what are the consequences of imprecision?