Review: Improv for Gamers

Something that has always stuck with me is the observation that tabletop gaming is a rather unique medium because it is the player, a single person, that is simultaneously the creator, performer and the audience. These are a lot of hats to wear, and usually people don’t wear them all equally as well. What’s more, advice for gamers typically focuses on creation, such as design and use of mechanics or audience, appreciation and criticism, rather than performance. Often, the act of…well…acting as your character has been something that players either brought with them to the table or set aside like all those optional rules at the end of the chapter. I think this is because the sort of comfort with improvisation is something a lot of people see as an innate characteristic or something that requires a great deal of study and refinement to master. Fortunately, there is a resource to help demystify this practice that was once usually the practice of drama students and LARPers. In Improv for Gamers, Karen Twelves provides the reader with an inviting, approachable and fun way to see how you can bring characters to life.

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Review: Shadow of the Century

The very first example of Fate in play I ever heard was an absolutely over-the-top pulp melee recorded by Role Playing Public Radio. It’s hard to believe how long ago that was. Unfortunately, we’ve never managed to sit down and record any games of this work that’s cast such a long shadow, if you’ll pardon the pun, across the tabletop gaming landscape. We’ve played a lot of Fate over the years though, and loved it every time. So, it was with a fair measure of excitement and trepidation that we greeted the announcement of Shadow of the Century. Now, having sat down with the book and put a few hours into some very gonzo gameplay, I can say that the excitement was totally justified, and I think this game is a worthy descendant that captures an entirely new genre while remaining true to The Spirit of the Century.

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Aser and Megan Go To GenCon (2018 Edition)

It’s August once again and the TRF braintrust’s credit score has just dropped precipitously. This can mean only one thing: Aser and Megan are back from GenCon! Once again, we’ve returned with a suitcase full of new games to try and new scenarios to run. We’ve also made a bunch of new friends to bother on the internet and new plans to maybe get around to in the next few months. And lest we forget, we also hit a new milestone as far as the podcast goes, we’ve released our 200th episode!

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Three’s Company – A Review of Braille Dice

When we started The Redacted Files and the idea that I would become a regular player in a variety of games including Call of Cthulhu, D20 Modern and Numenera first started to materialize, a big question in my mind was how I would be able to roll dice. From listening to other actual play podcasts wrestle with large dice pool games, I’d heard about dice roller apps, and figured that would be the natural, and exclusive, tool I would be using if I wanted that function to stay in my hands. But that was way back in the Naïve days of 2014, when people were still figuring out a lot of what makes gaming as vibrant and dynamic as it is today: including the wonders of 3D printing.

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Moving Target – Making Character Sheets Accessible in Play

When working to make the tabletop experience more accessible for someone with a visual impairment, some obstacles might be more prominent than others. For instance, many people gravitate towards that repository of essential information, the character sheet: but a bigger problem arises when you dig a little deeper and realize many of the items on such a sheet are inherently mutable. Since so many of them are subject to change, even an accessible version, such as one printed out in Braille or large print may not fully duplicate the experience. This is a problem Megan and I have given some thought to over the years and what follows are some of the suggestions we’ve worked out.

First, a discussion of making character sheets accessible will probably help ground this conversation. For most of the time I’ve been gaming, Megan and I have prepared plain text character sheets for any visually impaired players who might be joining our groups. This offers the most versatile accommodation as it can then be accessed by desktop or mobile screen reader or magnifier, or output to a Braille display. If the facilities are available, it’s also usually the easiest starting point for creating a Braille document suitable for printing using a Braille embosser or using enlarged font. So, in essence, we can make the sheet bigger, talk, or tactile. The problem once again is that once play begins, the values on the sheet aren’t likely to remain static for long.

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Aser and Megan go to GenCon50 2017

Another Gencon is behind us, and with the return to the everyday routine comes an opportunity to reflect on all we did and experienced in four glorious days of gaming, interviewing and walking: you would not believe how much walking, or maybe you would…. We arrived in Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon and flew out on Sunday evening. In between, we ran five games, played in one, attended two panels, and for the first time, conducted six interviews that are being posted throughout the week.

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Finding a System for Your Next Campaign

Every couple of months around here at TRF, we finish up one of the three or so ongoing campaigns we have running at any given moment. For some people, this might represent an opportunity to pause, bask in the afterglow of a satisfying finale and plot out what comes next. More likely than not though, for us it means it’s time to hit the ground running with our next big idea. When you run this many games, you begin to get a good feel for the best, read easiest, ways to plan for these things and the sorts of factors that make for a good experience.

Bookshelf filled with RPG books

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How a Blind Gamer Runs Games

Assistive technology is an amazing thing. I used to tell friends that for a large part of human history, careers for the blind were restricted to beggar, musician or soothsayer. That’s a fair bit of hyperbole, but by and large a wide swath of everyday occupations and leisurely pursuits were entirely closed off to people with even a minor visual impairment. But then came one leap forward after another in the world of computing and soon software existed that could read printed text aloud, turn computer output into spoken feedback and provide access to information in a coherent and digestible form. I graduated from law school in the top 5% of my class, record and produce a podcast enjoyed by literally dozens of people and make a nuisance of myself on social media just like anyone else. We truly live in a golden age. On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I thought it would be useful to describe some of the tools I use to (effectively) run tabletop role-playing games online and in person as part of TRF. Continue reading How a Blind Gamer Runs Games

Review: Book of Unremitting Horror

Cover of the book of unremitting horror. Shows a creepy creature with long arms grinning menacingly at the viewer

One of the toughest parts of running an investigative horror RPG can be creating interesting monsters to terrorize your players. Unlike adversaries in more combat-oriented RPGs, the baddies in a horror game are more than just stat blocks: they need to have a complete background with hooks to discover in order to complete the investigation. Creating these can often be the most entertaining part of GM-ing games like Fear Itself, but sometimes it’s nice to have something to weave a story around.

That’s where The Book of Unremitting Horror comes in. This book provides a collection of fearsome creatures from your worst nightmares. Each entry provides a background for the creature including a story about a haunting and advice on how to run them in a game. And of course, the book also has stats. These entries are more than just single page write-ups, and can easily form the core of a scenario by themselves. In fact, Megan did this to create the one on one session we released for Halloween in 2015.

The thing is, the monsters and demons on offer in Unremitting Horror aren’t just your run of the mill catalog of things that go bump in the night. There are very unique manifestations of common tropes and urban legends that make for genuinely creepy reading. They include things like the Kooks, creatures that retain their immortality by feeding on the essence of young children, the Blossomer, a demon summoned by angsty teenagers in a fit of sex and cannibalism, and Sisterides, basically an MRA’s fears given form.

This book is a treasure trove of the sorts of horrifying moments that make Fear Itself, Esoterrorists and games like them so memorable. Some of the creatures featured in the book are used in the scenario Invasive Procedures, which The Redacted Files played in two parts. Another is featured in the one on one session entitled Soliloquy.

The book comes in both Gumshoe and d20 variants. We plan on using several of the entries in this book to terrorize our cast in the near future. We highly recommend you check it out and pick up a copy to inflict on your unsuspecting friends. You can purchase it on DriveThruRPG for Gumshoe or d20. It’s also available for purchase from the Pelgrane Press website.

TRF’s Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 11, Cultists

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas
My GM gave to me,
Eleven cultists plotting,
Ten goblins singing,
Nine monstrous shoggoths,
Eight ghosts a-haunting,
Seven mi-go’s buzzing,
Six vampires drinking,
Five meepin’ ghouls!
Four terror birds,
Three planetvores,
Two orks choppin’,
And dread Cthulhu dreaming ‘neath the sea.

A hooded man stands in front of an altar with skulls

Oh cultists, where would be without you: probably at home in bed I expect. But what fun would that be? And I’m sure if we weren’t off ruining your plans for world domination and/or annihilation, I’m sure there’d be something less fun on the agenda like going to a University of Phoenix graduation.

As it is, cultists have generally been the TRF stand-in for stormtroopers. They crop up in Cthulhu games all the time of course, as well as in any fantasy game that goes on for more than a few sessions. Because let’s face it, sometimes there’s nothing more fun than finding someone who disagrees with you, is objectively wrong, and has no legal, moral, or even practical defense to your slings and arrows, much less slaughter accelerators and hand flamers.

Want to encounter them on TRF? You can find them in A Rune Awakening, Scary on the Choo-Choo, and The Wickerman

TRF’s Twelve Days of Christmas