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 played and GMed FRPGs since 1975, yet I’m sure I’ll never see all the different styles of play that are possible. I describe an immersion-breaking but popular style, “All About Me”, that differs greatly from the cooperative semi-military style.
Although I design board and card games as a business, if I want to play a game for pleasure I play tabletop RPGs. They are naturally co-operative games but with human opposition, more or less unique, because computer RPG “GMs” cannot begin to provide the flexibility and freedom of action that a good human GM offers.
Morale is vitally important in real battles. Units didn’t become hors de combat because most of the unit was dead or wounded, instead their morale broke when there was still a majority able to fight, and they fled. Morale has fallen out of use in RPGs – why?
The video game focus on “boss” monsters doesn’t make sense for tabletop RPGs. Video gamers are disappointed if the climactic monster doesn’t kill them several times; in RPGs, once you die, you (usually) don’t respawn.
Bear with me a while, as the following becomes a lesson for writing stories in RPGs. My wife and I have been watching the HBO Game of Thrones series on DVD. We’re now into the fifth season. Not long ago she started to read the Song of Ice and Fire books (I read them long ago, and only remember major events). It’s interesting to hear how the show simplifies things, and sometimes drops characters altogether, as they must to fit into a “mere” 80 hours*.
Some of you have seen Peter's "Evil Overlord List" from 1996-97. It's "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord" such as "Shooting is not too good for my enemies." If you've not read it before, it may help you make your opponents-for-adventurers more effective. It seems only fair that a similar list should exist for the heroes.
Recently I was at Infinity Con in Lake City Florida, where I encountered two gents (young but older than college-age) in a small booth offering the Shattered Dawn RPG. The con turned out to be a multimedia con with almost no gaming interest so I spent a lot of time talking with the guys and playing in both their demos on the day I was there.
A large subset of board games is Eurostyle games. These games are almost exactly the opposite of RPGs in many ways. Keep in mind, board (including some card) games are a vastly larger segment of tabletop gaming than RPGs in monetary terms, and Eurostyle games are a large part of that segment. So even if you have no interest in non-RPGs, a comparison may help you understand what you do (and could do) with your own campaign or RPG design.
There's a lot of "superstitious mumbo jumbo" (to quote Sir Alec Guiness about The Force in Star Wars') in the world. I take the scientific, naturalistic approach. I don't accept the supernatural as an explanation for anything, so why would I think there can be anything magical or supernatural in dice rolling/games?
There are two ways of rating fictional characters that you want to add to role-playing games (and other types of games as well). These are the functional method and the emotional/perceptual method (for want of a better name).
I enjoyed playing Spelljammer in conjunction with the 1e D&D rules back in the day - I'm a naval guy at heart. For those who don't remember, it's FRPG in outer space, with different physics and magical spaceships that often resemble creatures such as sharks or wasps, for 7th-13th level. (There was a brief version in Dungeon Magazine for 3e as well.) I read that we may see a new version for 5e, so I dug out some old notes in order to discuss the design of the original game.
I recently talked with a gamer who's often full of unusual, and sometimes impractical, ideas. He asked me about the difficulties of running a medieval-style low-magic D&D campaign. Lord of the Rings had to come up in the conversation, because it's the most well-known low magic fantasy setting in existence. If you take a functional rather than emotional view of the characters, in First Edition D&D terms Aragorn amounts to a seventh level ranger and Gandalf the Grey to an eighth level cleric with a Ring of Fire, and other characters are similarly low level. (I'll discuss in detail this another time.) Magic and "super-power" is immensely rare in this setting.