Player Response to Deadlands.

A few weeks ago, I posted that I was going to be running a few one-shot games using the Savage Worlds rules. I gave the players an options of settings based on what adventures I had available. I didn't give the name of setting but rather a one line description of the setting. I'm not sure if supernatural/horror/weird old west or supernatural/horror/weird World War II really describes Deadlands or Weird Wars II. Still it was the best that I could do without a full blown breakdown of the setting. In the end the players decided to go with the Old West setting, which meant Deadlands.

Almost every Savage Worlds setting has some modified rules that I needed to learn. For example in Solomon Kane, there was the Righteous Rage Rule. Deadlands is no different. I needed to for example learn how they morphed bennies to Fate Chips. For the most part they are same, but they have different colors that have slightly different effects. Still compared to learning an entirely new system, it is a very small thing indeed.

While I offered to help them create characters, most them opted to just use the pregenerated ones that you can download from the Pinnacle website. I think this was a good choice because the characters tend to be a little more rounded than what I've seen the average player do when the first start to play a Savage Worlds based game. It has been my experience that it's usually best to start play with a slightly wider range of skills instead of a few really high skills. The one player wanted to play a miner but couldn't come to make it. So I ended up doing a quick build of that character for the player.

So, the players were all set to go. One side effect of the new fate chip rules in Deadlands is that I needed new markers for wounds and shaken. I had been using the red and white poker chips for that, while the blue poker chip was the benny. I ended up with some printable markers for the wounds and shaken. A practical side effect is that since I tend to use a lot of printable minis with the old SJG Cardboard Hero stands, I can put the status marker in the stand with the paper miniature. So that worked at well for me.

For those that had never played Savage Worlds before, I was a little worried that all the pieces such as the fate chips, wound markers, and initiative cards would sort of freak them out. I happy to report that those players didn't seem to be bothered by them. As a matter of fact they seemed to really like the use of the initiative cards.

The players also like the very no strict movement rules compared to something like Pathfinder. For example, in Pathfinder and other D20 type games, you almost never move,shot, and move without a special feat. Which is something that Savage Worlds allows you to do right out of the box.

The only area that was minor issue with play was the trait rolls. This was mostly for the new player either not rolling the wild die or just using the wrong die. Which was something that I've done before myself. The other area was for those weapons that a rate of fire greater than one. Which even those players that had played Savage Worlds before had never done either. Still everyone enjoyed the exploding nature of the die rolls.

My only complaint was the one-page adventures that Pinnacle has for download. Compared to many the adventures in the Solomon Kane rulebook, the one-page adventures seemed short. I'm not quite sure why that should be. Since the Solomon Kane adventures are usually only a page themselves. The one adventure I wanted to use for four hours only ran for two and half. Luckily the players were all happy with the way the adventure ran.

Generally speaking, I think the players were very satisfied with how the rules worked. All the players were looking forward to the next one-shot session. Based on a few comments, I got the impression that at least one or two of the players would rather play Savage Worlds for a while instead of returning to our Pathfinder game after the next one-shot. I think that can be no higher praise for Savage Worlds than that.

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What Color is that Potion?

One of the great things about being sort of a "grognard" in Role-Playing Games is the amount of old stuff you have around the house. The other day, I was flipping through the old AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG). I came to the appendix section where they have tables to help randomly determine what potions look like. This of course got me to thinking.

You may ask, "Thinking what"? Well, I was thinking do people bother to describe potions any more? Have things like potions become so common and bland that we no longer bother to describe them? Should we be describing them?

I guess the best place to start is why I always expected them to be described by the DM in the early days. Back in early days of D&D, potions were not easily identified. As a matter of fact, there were many times the only way you would know what a potion did was actually drink it. Right or wrong that was the way things were back then. I think as players we sort of wanted a clue as to what function the potion could have, which meant we wanted it described to us. Which is where the tables in the old AD&D DMG comes in. As a matter of fact, I know some DMs that took this to the logical progression of having a color, taste, & smell matrix, where each potion type had a slot on the matrix. That way the players could write such info down when they discovered what a potion did and if they ran across said potion again, they would know what it did. Personally, I never went that far.

Over time, I think various systems updates have made it easier to identify magic items and potions. I'm not going to judge the merits of that. It just made things different. I think this is where many of started to stop describing something as basic as potion. Move forward and finally, we are at the point where potions are pretty much just standard equipment to be bought and sold (as well as most magic items). It was at this point that we generally stopped bothering. After all, you don't really bother to describe an arrow or sack do you?

I guess the questions I'd like to ask the reader are the following. Do you think we lost something by not generally describing potions? Do you or your DM bother to describe potions? I know my answers are yes and sadly no respectively. I think this is something to work on the next time I run D&D (or Pathfinder).

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The One Shot Game!

As gamers, one thing we hate is when we can't play. Especially, when it's not something that we have control over. For example, the my GM that is running the current Pathfinder game can not run for the next month. Granted we only play about every two weeks. Which means we will only miss two sessions. Still a month is a long time.

Of course to the rescue is going to be the one shot game. I know we have all done them from time to time. We have done them either by accident or on purpose. Yes, I said accident. I don't know how many times we planned to start a new game and only play a single adventure before we did something else.

The nice things about a one shot game, is you get to try things out. It can either be a genre or a game system. Actually, that's how I introduced people to Savage Worlds. Pinnacle Entertainment Group, makers of Savage Worlds, has large collection of One Page Adventures that are perfect one shot adventures and one of the 30's Pulp Style adventures is what I used to introduce the players to Savage Worlds. On the downside, They liked it so much that wanted to play more. Sadly, I just didn't have the material in place to continue much past two adventures. Still the players had fun and that experience in many ways set them up for the Solomon Kane Campaign that I finished with my Thursday night gaming group.

So now, with my Saturday groups GM out for at least a month, It's time to select some one-shots to fill the gap as I have volunteered myself to fill in. Again, I've selected to run Savage Worlds. The more people I expose to it, the more likely they will play it in the future. The hard part is going to be selecting some one-shot adventures. I'm not sure what Genre the players are going to want to try. I also wondering if I should try one that I know that I can create or have more material available for? If past experience is any guide, then at some point the players may want to continue their characters.

So, wish me luck and I'll let you know what happens in the future.

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Why I still love Tunnels and Trolls

When I played my first RPG, Wide World of Sports was still on television and Return of the Jedi had not yet made it to the big screen. Dungeons and Dragons was popular; as with many of you, it was the system that welcomed me into the fold. I was not, however, allowed to play it.

My neighbors, brothers my age, had an early edition. Andy, the older brother, guided the rest of us on our initial adventure. He made it up, in the sense that he took The Hobbit and changed a few names. But we didn’t care, and I couldn’t wait for more.

At the time, though, Dungeons and Dragons had that evil aura laid upon it by religious folk throughout the land. To tell you the truth, I can see how someone on the outside might have been nervous—we were talking about killing things, casting spells, and categorizing monsters and demons. But I was eager to explain my position, to describe the game, and to show that it was no more harmful than writing a story or watching The Bionic Man.

My parents, though, refused when I asked to buy a copy. The Monster Manual contained Asmodeus, among other nefarious entities, and the game inspired witchcraft. That was the party line, anyway. I have to add, as an aside, that I was terrified of demons, and highly unlikely to mention them in a game, let alone incorporate them into my daily life. Hell, I was even afraid of girls and overly aggressive bees back then, so nobody needed to worry. But worry they did, and D&D was forbidden.

Strangely, though D&D was not allowed, I was permitted to play a similar game, Tunnels and Trolls, probably because it did not have the same reputation. And though Tunnels and Trolls is and was less popular, it had a number of fantastic advantages, and I’d like to share some. “Why?” you ask. Because it really is a pretty cool game, and some of you OSR fans might want to get yourself a copy.

So, here's why I still love Tunnels and Trolls:

First off, solo adventures. Yep, when why neighbors got annoying, or when my best friend went on vacation to Texas, Tunnels and Trolls had several solo adventures I could use to challenge my favorite characters. In fact, I believe that Buffalo Castle (initially published in 1976) was the first solo adventure for any pen and paper RPG.

These books were rather like the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were also popular at the time—I loved both Journey Under the Sea and The Cave of Time—but there were monsters to fight, magic items to discover, and occasions to roll dice. Honesty was also required—if you lost the battle, you had to turn to page x. I was 7 or 8, so I may have altered a few outcomes to avoid the agony of defeat, but still, I could always roll up another character and tackle the solo maze once more.

Second, group mechanic. I don’t remember if early D&D had the option, but in T&T, (I still giggle typing that), if heroes worked together, their dice added up. So, if my elf and your human attacked a troll, we’d add our attack dice together and compare them to the troll’s pool. Working together, in combat, made an immediate difference. It made great sense to me then, and it does now. I’m reminded of the bonus you get in Savage Worlds when your numbers, or theirs, start to matter….

Third, great weapons lists. I have to say, I did not know what a kukri was, or a sax, or a swordbreaker, until T&T showed me the way. Back then, the weapons list was far more extensive than those in the other games I saw, and I loved the variety.

Finally, armor soak. Can you believe it? When D&D creators were struggling to justify AC, Tunnels and Trolls had armor that reduced the amount of damage a character took after being hit. Simple, clear, effective: armor soak. I realize that the previous sentence sounds like dermatological product placement, but the idea holds. Even last night, when I played a great session of Pathfinder, I found myself annoyed at the whole AC setup, as usual….

I could go on, but suffice it to type that Tunnels and Trolls is a cool game, quick to start and deep if you want it to be. As of today, it’s a little tough to find, but I’ve spotted some used copies around the internet. It is worth the look.

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It's a Weight Thing

In a recent blog post at Tenkar’s Tavern, I was reminded of an old Dragon article about How many coins in a coffer. When I first read the article back in the 80’s, it sort of blew my young little mind. Funny thing is that re-reading it today, it still sort of blows my mind. It was however Tenkar’s calculation of 20x20 room filled one foot deep with copper pieces that really got me to think about this article. By his calculations the weight would have been something like 138 tons.

That of course got me thinking,on the podcast we have talked about encumberance. If memory serves most of us didn’t really use any of the encumberance rules in question. Of course one side effect of this is that we don’t keep track of how much money we are carrying. It could be 1 gold piece to 30,000 gold pieces and we sort of forget about it. One has to wonder, if even if we generally ignore encumberence, should we ignore the issues of coins as well?

I think most people sort of just view the coins that they have on their character sheet sort of like a bank account balance. It’s the mathematical amount but not how it’s physically allocated. So if a character had say 5000 gold pieces, that could be gold pieces, gems, platinum pieces, or anything else. Even if they do consider it, they typically will convert the monetary amounts as needed without thinking about how difficult it might be to actually do. It’s like we expect people to always be able to make change or something. The item costs a silver piece, you give the poor broke farmer one platinum piece and he gives you change back, now back to the adventure.

Do we lose out by not considering the weight of coins? At the very least, should we consider the amount? Is that the answer, just allow the characters to carry only so many coins? Funny thing is that early encumbrance systems would have things listed in coins as weight. Of course back then 10 coins equaled a pound. Which is why Tenkar’s room weights 138 tons. In most modern versions of D&D, it is now 50 coins to a pound, which would still put Tenkar’s room a little over 27 tons. So, should we either force ourselves to use the encumbrance system or just have a simple coin amount that people can carry? If we used used an amount and allowed 500 coins, that would be 10 pounds. If we allowed 2000 coins that would be 40 pounds.

Honestly, I don’t know which would be best. I know people are just trying to avoid the logistical stuff while playing a game for fun. I guess in the end, I wonder if we are robbing ourselves of story if we don’t deal with the weight of coins in some fashion (I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to the coin issue). What are your thoughts?

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Combat Good, Grammar Bad

Though I am an English teacher by trade, in real life, I don’t drop grammar bombs on my peers. If one of my buddies says “I” when he means “me,” I don’t flinch. When mom talks about how she’s “laying on the couch,” I don’t ask her what she’s putting there. Frankly, I don’t want to know.

But when I am buying print, including RPG books, I expect the text to be well edited. Recently, however, I have been disappointed. I don’t mean that the fluff isn’t good; instead, I am suggesting that the grammar is bad. Sometimes, very bad. Roll for insanity bad, even.

You can come after me for my own sentence-level shortcomings if you like, but I am not getting paid to write this blog. Hell, I’m not even getting free government cheese. Professional writers, though, should be fastidious about their writing, and I’m including RPG authors in that lot. Nevertheless, I keep running into grammar errors and word choice issues that should have been fixed long before I shelled out my $49.95.


“Continue on to page 43.” Just “continue” is fine.

“Often times, two-handed weapon users can do more damage if their attacks are successful.” Well, “often” is a number of times, so “often times” is like “audible noises” or “canine dogs.” Also, duh regarding the extra damage.

“If a barbarian chooses a two-handed weapon, they can wield the weapon in one hand without a penalty.” Who are “they”? A barbarian is a single thug, not a “they.” Pronoun issues and agreement issues abound in recent printings, and I is sick of them. (See?)

I could continue this rant by providing all manner of examples from game books on my shelf. I haven't even mentioned overlong errata lists, yet I am glad they are easily found online. I don’t want to pick on anyone, though, and pointing fingers won’t get me anywhere. Instead, I do want to say that some writers and editors are doing a great job, and I hope they continue. Kenneth Hite, for example, regularly puts out nicely penned games and supplements. He’s a badass writer. Sean Preston tends to impress me as well. In most cases, Paizo products have been carefully edited, too.

Some of the other writers and companies need to be better about their editing. If any of you are reading this (….really…?) feel free to hit me up for some proofreading. I’m not kidding; I’ll do it for nothing or almost nothing.

We gamers are a smart bunch, and we may not want to spend 40 bucks on a rulebook only to find out that it is a half-hearted rush job. For that kind of thing, we just go to the movies.

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You Got Your Rapier Stuck in My Fantasy

Stop me if you heard this before, a heavily armored warrior faces the foul creature with a two-handed sword. All the while the lightly armored rogue sneaks up behind the creature with his trusty rapier. This could easily be a scene in any fantasy game. So much so in fact that I’m sure most of you didn’t see what wrong with the picture. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the fact that one is armored the other isn’t. To put it simply, it’s the weapons.

Now, I’m sure at this point you are asking, what the hell is wrong with the weapons. Well by themselves nothing. Taken together, then one of them is sort of anachronistic. I can hear some of you yelling, “But it’s a fantasy world” or some other such thing. While true, that should excuse the fact that these two weapons would have not be employed during the same time even in a fantasy world.

All too often when we look at things from our modern perspective, we forget that all weapons are function of the time that they were built. Let’s take the rapier from the above example. In our time it was use during the 16th and 17th Centuries. It’s primary use was that of thrusting attacks. Even so, it was not designed to piece armor of any type. Why? because armor had fallen out of use due to the rise of early firearms which could easily pierce the thickest armor of the day. Meanwhile the two-handed sword appeared during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. There is some theories that such sword were used to cut down horses rather than mean. Still such a weapon is pretty heavy compared to the rapier.

So let’s face off our warrior and our rogue. In the situation where the warrior is in armor and the where the rouge simply does not run away but stays and fights, the rogue would find his rapier useless against the armored warrior. Although he hit often, those attacks would just penetrate the armor. While the warrior would likely find it hard to hit the rogue, but if it did there would be one less rogue to worry about.

Now let’s say that neither was armored. In this case the warrior would still have a hard time hitting the rogue not to mention he would be getting tired really fast. The rogue on the other hand would be able to quickly use his rapier and remove one stupid warrior from the planet.

These of course are just the quickest examples that I could whip up. There are plenty of more examples out there. I wonder why we always choose to mix time periods like this in fantasy games? The only thing that comes to mind is “Because it looks Cool”. The other is that we always want the kitchen sink setting. We want everything to be possible in a fantasy setting. After all, it is fantasy right? Even in a fantasy setting, I think we forget that there has to be some sort of logic.

If you want everything, you need to explain why there would be such mix-match of weapons and armor. Although I’m not sure what that might be. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open to hearing them. I dare say, it might be easier to pick a period stick with it. Disallowing weapons and armor that don’t fit that period.

One closing thought, people from different areas have different needs. The weapons they use should reflect that (not to mention armor). If you a GM, one should have noted what weapons and armor typical warriors of an area would use. That way you players might be able to guess just based on equipment where someone is from.

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The Art of the Lie in RPGs

Over six months ago, I was playing in a spy game. That in itself is not a big deal, what was a big deal was the art of the simple lie. A strange phone call comes in, my character answers. The NPC A (on the phone) asks to speak to NPC B. My character tells NPC A that NPC B is not at home. At this point, the GM tells me to make a Bluff roll. Which my character fails because he has no bluff skill. NPC A demands that he speak with NPC B that he knows is home. Needless to say the adventure was sort of all downhill for me after that.

Something about the exchanged really bothered me. So much so, I still think about it even today. While the GM was mechanically correct on requiring a bluff roll, I was wondering if it was logically was correct. Now before you go off full kilt and call "shenanigans", allow me to explain myself.

First off, we all lie. That's right, we all lie. When a women asks a man if something makes her look fat, what man is going to say "Yes"? Now if you are thinking well, it's a just a white lie, then yes you are right it is. Funny thing though is that in the study of lies, there are lies and then there are LIES! A simple way to look at it is that there are lies that we say not hurt someone and there are lies we say that could hurt someone. Basically, you have to look at the intent of the lie.

Secondly, we tend to believe what we are told provided we no reason to suspect that people lie to us. Ask someone the time for example, do you expect the person you ask to lie to you? They may have the wrong time but chances are they didn't know it. On the other hand, you think someone has done something wrong and you ask them about it. In many cases you actually expect them to lie about. You many even think they are being untruthful even when they are because it's not what you think happened.

So by now, you asking yourself, can you get to the point already? What has this to do with RPGs? Well, RPGs are funny thing. Characters interact with NPCs all the time. They have pseudo-conversations. They players may lie to the NPCs and the NPCs lie to the players. The real question is when do you need to have skill interactions, deception checks, or whatever else you need done? Some will argue all the time. Generally a GM will allow players to make checks to see if the NPC is lying anytime they question the truth of what an NPC is saying. After all most GM will just sit there and have a little chuckle while the PC waste die rolls. But when should a GM require it? That I suppose is the big question here. After all the GM already knows if the players are lying or not. I'm sure I have a 100% good answer for myself.

Let's take a look at a few questions about the lie.

• Is the lie appropriate to the situation?
• Is the lie believable? If you are telling someone you are a sword master, you shouldn't be the one that can't hold a sword.
• Does the lie contain something that NPC knows is false? No telling someone the sky is green when it's blue.

I guess what I'm saying is that a little common sense should apply. So going back to my original situation, should a die roll been called for? I still not sure. Why would NPC A think that NPC B would be home? After all, if someone calls your house and asks to speak to someone there and you say they are not home even though they are don't most people believe that?

I guess in the end, I'm wondering what you our gentle readers would do in this situation? Please let me know.

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Lions and Tigers and Fate Points, Ohhhh My!

Most of you know that games like The Dresden Files and Savage Worlds include bennies or fate points or [insert adventuresome game mechanic title here] to enhance gameplay. In many cases, these points or chips allow players to soak extra damage, reroll a failed attempt, or alter the outcome of a story event. One of my favorite examples comes from Agents of Oblivion, a superb Delta-Greenish supplement for Savage Worlds. In that setting, a bennie can be spent to requisition weapons or equipment from HQ during a mission. Need a nano-tech rocket to blow up the tricked-out Maserati owned by a Cthulhu cultist/Internet billionaire? Just spend a bennie and wait for the ACME box to arrive! The power level of these points depends on the game, the game master, and the situation. A failed roll and subsequent bennie reroll to pick a lock, for example, might not change the world; however, a bennie used in the middle of a key battle may change the face of future. So be it, and let the fun continue!

Recently, though, I have employed bennies in two non-bennie games. And I have to say, I don’t think I will go back to a bennieless universe. Here’s why…

First, even in a gritty game, bennies can be toned down to fit the flavor of the situation. There’s no need to believe that bennies automatically turn every RPG into an 80’s style G.I. Joe cartoon--everything blows up and nobody gets hurt. Bennies can offer small advantages, or they can come at a great price. I recently started a game in which my players each get two bennies, and I, as the GM, get none. But when the players use their chips, they go into a pool for my evil use at any time. As a result, my players are very careful about when they spend.

Second, in most games, bennies encourage players to take risks. Whether you’re playing a heroic game or a simulationist one, it can be just as entertaining to fail as to succeed. Both may further the story and present opportunities for role or roll playing. Bennies tend to encourage players to take more risks, and thus reach success or failure more often. Not to be overly proud of metagaming moments, but I have, in the past, tempted players with bennie rewards for taking dangerous chances. I watched a player waffle over his character’s decision to try a bizarre combat maneuver, and only my wicked bennie offer pushed him to go for it. Result: successful dwarf summersault attack, laughter, and further complications requiring more strategy. Everyone wins.

Finally, for now anyway, another cool aspect of such fate points in nearly any game is that the GM can find or craft cool objects to employ as bennies. I’ve used everything from rusty old keys to bullet shells, and I’m always on the lookout for new possibilities.

I’m starting a modern spy game this week, and I plan to shop for something cheap but James Bond-like after work today. Any ideas?

If I don’t find anything, I can always spend a bennie and search again….

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We Know What They Are Already....

The other day I purchased a new game for my PS3. I grabbed a pocket knife, cut the plastic, and eventually, like an otter shucking an oyster, opened the jewel case. Inside the glossy booklet that came with the game, 10 point font provided a wealth of uninspiring information: control scheme, seizure warnings, etc. I noticed, however, that the booklet did not contain an explanation about what a video game is. I did NOT see “This is a game of video enjoyment, wherein you hold a controller and manipulate on-screen events. The powers and abilities referenced in this video game are not real. Therefore, do not go outside and attempt to cast fireballs, sneak by awkwardly squatting, or sprint for an excessive amount of time. You are a human player enjoying the challenges of a programmed digital adventure.” In other words, there was no “What is a video game?” introduction. There was an in-game, tutorial, of course, but that’s a different animal.

Similarly, I recently played Last Night on Earth, the excellent zombie-survival board game, and I did not see an obligatory “What is a board game?” passage in the game’s rules. Go ahead, look for yourself. Crack open Monopoly and see if there’s an explanation of what board games are and how the miniature metal dog is not a real dog and as such does not need a tiny bowl of food or a leash. There are rules, of course, but not much more.

So, why is it that role-playing games always include the “What is a role-playing game?” chapter close to the front of the rulebook? What is so confusing about the setup that an explanation is required? Frankly, I don’t think we need these awkward dissertations any longer. In most cases, with decent writing, the playing process is clear. Either the rules are sufficient or the person buying the book already knows what an RPG is. In addition, some rulebooks contain nicely written “example of play” passages that are much less cloying than the “What is an RPG?” chapters that I rarely, if ever, manage to get through. These “example of play” sections are often clear, fun to read, and can be threaded throughout a rulebook to include other helpful examples. Boo-yah.

I do understand that in some corners of the world, there are people buying GURPS or Savage Worlds or D&D having never heard of pen and paper RPGs. I also get that in some cases, a person might be new to the hobby, and the lovely little explanation could make all the difference between utter confusion and profound understanding. Fine: 1 in 100 RPG purchases, maybe. But for the most part, the RPG self-definition isn’t needed. It’s even demeaning, sometimes, because it seems as though the hobby needs to explain itself too much. I’d rather read an intro to the world and the mechanics, followed by a sample of play, and leave the “If you’ve never played a role-playing game” explanation buried in the appendix next to “What are dice?” and “There will be expansions, so start saving your money!”

Not to get too snarky, but I can’t imagine someone reading through a typical RPG book and simply waiting for dice to roll themselves or characters to materialize on the dining-room table. It’s just not that confusing. There are tons of subtleties and variations, of course, but the basic principle is clear. And when it isn’t, when someone has no clue what an RPG is, I doubt that most of the current “What is this that you are holding?” confessionals are going to make a big difference.

These days, it is very easy to listen to live play podcasts, to read descriptions online, or to simply communicate with friends. So, I don’t think the “What is an RPG?” passage makes sense any more. I’m not against them, of course, and when I run for RPG President that will not be my platform. However, I don’t think they are necessary, either. There are far better ways to introduce our excellent hobby to new players.

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