The 10 Best Roleplaying Reads of January 2015!

Keeping up with the blogging scene isn’t easy for anyone as it seems like every day there’s a new blog or post going up with great ideas for how to make gaming better. Which is why each week over at the Dyvers blog I read through hundreds of blogs, finding the best posts, and bringing them together in the Best Reads of the Week! series. This month that means that I’ve read more than 2,100 blog post and checked over 375 blogs! In doing so there were some posts that stood out as their authors managed to create memorable articles that not only helped inspire their readers to more fruitful gaming but have helped solve some lingering problems that have troubled them in the process. So get ready because whether you’re looking for a new way to handle social interactions, new places to explore, or wondering why indie games haven’t taken over the world, we’ve got something here for you!

10) Anatomy of a Successful Campaign by Adam Dickstein, from the blog Barking Alien: Adam begins this post by asking “What exactly constitutes a successful campaign?” For some that might seem like a simple question but as he quickly points out it's anything but. A successful campaign is a subjective experience that goes beyond the traditional talking points and moves on to an individual’s understanding of what makes for a fun game and how that's expressed throughout a longer campaign.

Adam has spent the majority of his time as a Game Master running anything but fantasy games – which he hates - and his experiences from the vast array of systems he’s run over the years have informed his conclusions and strengthen them. Reading this post is a great way to put your own games, with all their warts and beauty marks, into perspective and to realize what matters most in creating a successful campaign.

9) Social Conflict Resolution by Nick Foster, from the blog Rumors of War: Typically I prefer to work out social interactions in my games by having my players actually role-playing the situation, but in recent months I've picked up a new player who has real difficulties in handling social interactions because he's terribly shy. As a result I've been looking for ways to handle this side of the game in a way that's still fun for everyone at the table and this post by Nick is a great answer. His social conflict resolution method combines the fun of gambling coupled alongside the opportunity for my players to push the game in ways that I wasn't expecting.

Nick has a discerning eye and an imaginative mind for game mechanics that makes his musings all the more interesting. Where others tend to create rules out of the air, without much forethought, Nick always seems to be working through the complications as he writes which gives his blog a frenetic feel that I find reenergizing. If you’re looking for somewhere to debate rule mechanics then this is the blog you have to check out.

8) Swamp-Drunks of the Melanic Moors by Patrick Stuart, from the blog False Machine: Whether you're a seasoned Game Master or a novice player one of the things you're always looking for is something to set your imagination on fire and to inspire your games to greater heights. With Patrick Stuart blog False Machine you find both in abundance and this post is a prime example. In Swamp-Drunks and Melanic Moors Stuart creates both a location to explore and peoples it with a distinctive group that could only exist there through what reads like scraps of explorers' journals. Not a word is wasted in this expertly crafted piece and I am deeply envious of his talent.

7) Five New or Different Rules in the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Game by DM David, from the blog DM David: The release of Fifth Edition has inspired a lot of talk online about the changes that game has made from previous editions – especially from Fourth Edition – and often these discussions center around how people feel about those changes without focusing on what the actual differences are and how they impact the game. DM David, however, does not do that. Instead he methodically discusses the changes and how they have impacted the game without turning the discussion into a boring examination of esoteric facts. As a result this post is one of the best to come out on the subject so far.

6) On the Special Snowflake Setting by Courtney Campbell, from the blog Hack & Slash: The special snowflake setting has gotten a bad reputation in online discussions as a vainglorious enterprise where people talk about things like the color of hats the people of Xanvos wear just to make it different from all the other settings out there. Is that really such a bad thing, though? In this post Courtney manages to diagnose all of the problems with the special snowflakes and then he shows you how to fix them by asserting your problems in a constructive way. It may not always work, but following Courtney's method is a great place to start getting things right and it can be used far beyond the gaming table.

5) Say No to Audition Work
by Ryan Macklin, from the blog Ryan Being a creative individual and trying to make a living (and hopefully a profit) from it is filled with pitfalls that can cripple your spirit and stifle your creativity. Most of those are brought to play when you let them happen and in this insightful post from Ryan he provides all of us with some well needed advice. Listen to his advice and don't let people take advantage of you. Don't let people fool you into working for free and don't let them abuse you because you're too eager to get your foot in the door. If they actually want what you’ve done then it has a value.

Read this post and take it to heart.

4) Don't Prep Plots - "You Will Rue This Day, Heroes!" (The Principles of RPG Villainy)
by Justin Alexander, from the blog The Alexandrian: For many Game Masters creating a villain that will stand out in your players memories is a deeply personal and time consuming task. So should it be any surprise that these villains are of the reason why otherwise good Game Masters start using convoluted situations to force their players to stand helplessly by while the villain escapes yet again?

In this excellent article from the Alexandrian, Justin presents a convincing case that manufacturing ways that your villains escape from your players is not only a bad thing for your campaign but that it makes you a terrible Game Master because you have robbed them of their ability to freely control their characters. Thankfully Justin has outline a method that will help Game Masters that have a hard time with this to avoid the pitfalls of the Teflon villain.

3) Phosma and Blue Devil Death by Arnold K., from the blog Goblin Punch: Among the many strange theories about the earth is that it is hollow and in its center is a sun that warms those who live there. In spite of evidence that this isn’t real there are still people who adamantly believe that it is. So when I saw that Arnold had decided to take up the idea in Phosma and Blue Devil Death I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with it.

Arnold K. took the classical idea of the Hollow Earth, which even TSR took a stab at, and managed to make it feel new and inspired. In Arnold’s hollow earth there exists a central, blue sun which is far more than just a ball of incandescent gas floating in the center of the planet. From this sun comes the Blue Devil Death which is a creature that can be used in any system and in practically any setting without much effort.

2) Roll for Initiative . . . or Don't - Alternative Approaches to Initiative by Derek Myers, from the blog Dungeon's Rolling for initiative can become a boring process marked only by the time it takes to mindlessly roll your dice across the table and call out the results – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead you can create alternative methods for initiative that bring a new way of thinking about combat to your games and that re-energizes the table. In this post, inspired by the Newbie DM’s thoughts on the subject, Derek Myers proposes several alternative methods for initiative that will help refresh your Dungeons and Dragons combats and hopefully get your minds working on creating your own methods.

1) Indie Games are Missing the Point by Alessandro Piroddi, from the blog (un)Playable_G4mes: For a certain segment of this hobby there are two types of games coherent games, which effectively remove the Game Master from the equation, and incoherent games, which traditional role-playing games fall into (like Dungeons & Dragons). For these people coherent games are a superior style of game that focuses on hard choices and emotionally charged situations that cause you to question your own beliefs about everything. The two types of games do have an overlap in their mechanics with more mainstream games (which are all incoherent) slowly implementing aspects of their indie cousins. If it’s true that coherent games are superior to incoherent ones, and that the incoherent games are being informed by coherent games; then why aren’t coherent games the dominant type of game in the hobby? Why aren’t we all striving to play games that have us playing through these emotionally charged environments instead of chasing dragons through dungeons?

Alessandro Piroddi is a firm believer in the superiority of the coherent type of game and yet he recognizes the disconnect between his preferred style of gameplay and that which dominates the industry. In working through the problem he keeps searching for an answer that escapes his grasp. An answer that could change everything.

If you enjoyed any of these posts be sure to let the authors know by leaving them a comment, or sharing their work with your friends. And if you would like to find even more great reads be sure and check out the BEST READS OF THE WEEK! (click here for a January 2015’s FAQ)

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Great list.

Your #1 is a click bait article though. All the author's assumptions are wrong, starting with the fact that 'established branding' is the most obvious explanation for the continued dominance of an ever changing array of new 'incoherent' designs.

There is a simple answer: 'incoherent' is a polite term for badwrongfun. It's the idea of a purist that you shouldn't put peanut butter in your chocolate. The 'system matters' people have it wrong. The truth is no RPG can be truly successful in the long run unless it's design is 'incoherent', because real players or at least the vast majority of real players never bring a single agenda of play to the table. To be successful for more than a session or two, your game must support multiple agenda's of play simultaneously.

Contrast this obvious answer with the one the author ends up accepting, which is that people who like incoherent games have something subtly emotionally wrong with them. Basically, he blames the persistent devotion of every single popular system ever on the widespread insanity of the people who like them. He then goes on describe the play of 'incoherent' games as inherently juvenile and akin to sociopathy. He then in the mold of a true believer asks the big question, "I'm not denying the truth of our historicism, but really, I would have expected the inevitable to have happened a bit faster than it seems to be happening?" So he decides that the problem is that they need to stop marketing their games to the insane people who refuse to accept them and to seek out sane people that will accept the truth of their gospel.

Seriously people, question your assumptions from time to time. A bit of self-reflective doubt is a good thing.
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5ever, or until 2024

Your #1 is a click bait article though. All the author's assumptions are wrong, starting with the fact that 'established branding' is the most obvious explanation for the continued dominance of an ever changing array of new 'incoherent' designs.

There is a simple answer: 'coherent' is a polite term for badwrongfun. ....

It is funny, look at not just D&D but practically every RPG that was actually in a position to have multiple products in print or a regular presence in game stores...Traveller, GURPS, MERP, Vampire, Cyberpunk, Mutants and Masterminds, and so forth...I don't know if any would meet the criteria for "coherence". Maybe CoC is thematically unified enough, though even that can be approached in different ways.

The most coherent version of D&D was of course 4E...5E on the other hand is designed primarily to facilitate different styles of play, even in the same campaign and sometimes even at the same time!


The most coherent version of D&D was of course 4E...5E on the other hand is designed primarily to facilitate different styles of play, even in the same campaign and sometimes even at the same time!

This is a clear example of the video game designers being light years ahead in theory compared to the increasingly anachronistic design philosophies that dominate places like Forge. Yes, it's great that Forge started taking RPG design seriously, and I think that a lot of their thought on the subject was in fact informative and worth thinking about. But they've taken all that intellectuality and creativity and moved into narrow little box.

If you look at cutting edge video game design theory, they'd never suggest that any single player or any single group of players always had a single aesthetic agenda with which they approached the game. In fact, the trend in AAA gaming has been in exactly the opposite direction - lets see how many different aesthetics of play we can put into a single game. The result has been a lot of hybrid RPG/Adventure/First Person Shooter games, where the aesthetic of play depends on the particular mini-game you are in and which can vary depending on whether you are playing solo, cooperatively, or competitively. Any designer making video games, listening to the whine about "Why aren't are independent games more successful?", could answer it with ease, "Because you've designed them with such narrow and specific goals, that you've narrowed your audience down to a handful of people that have that exact narrow and specific goal. And even then, most people will only repeatedly play such a narrow game a handful of times before that aesthetic goal will be satisfied and they'll seek out something else."

Consider something like Minecraft and how it appeals to a player. Every time you sit down to Minecraft, you have to decide for yourself what you want to do. That's actually equivalent to deciding for yourself what your aesthetic goal of play is going to be, and its going to depend heavily on your mood. Maybe you decide you have a goal of challenge, and so you decide to fight monsters. Maybe you decide to have a goal of expression, and so you build something you feel is visually impressive. Maybe you have a goal of relaxation and you just go mindlessly mine resources because you are subsumed in a simple task. And each of these goals will feed on the other ones, as the resources you mine become the tools of self-expression and so forth. Forge theory would argue that Minecraft - particularly Minecraft in survival mode - was incoherent, because the presence of both a building game and challenges like creepers or zombies was incoherent, as was having elements of exploration and scarcity in a game seemingly focused on self-expression. And sure, as they define incoherence they are absolutely right. But that just shows they have no idea how much genius is in incoherence. It's not designing a coherent game that is really hard. They're holding up the wrong standard.
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