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"Thing you’d be most surprised a friend had not seen or read?"

I stared at this topic for a very long time, wondering what to even say about this, because in my group of friends I am the one who is typically lacking in modern pop culture know-how and get the response of, "What, you haven't heard of it?"

But why is it that we tend to be surprised when people don't know something we do? Regardless of how "common" something is, clearly in this day and age, people more than ever have the ability to look for things they like and ignore the aspects of pop culture they don't care about. Tabletop gamers is something of a niche hobby already, so wouldn't it follow that we would know how it feels like to not be "in" with the crowd?

It's usually funny enough, but sometimes it's also incredibly annoying to be judged for lacking in one kind of popculture knowledge, when I consume an entirely different set of modern media that others just don't have in common with me. It's even worse when I try to explain the media I do consume and get dismissively told that my media is inferior! Unbelievable.

But jokes and outrage aside, I do think that this sort of condescension towards others is a very strange thing to experience in what I consider a niche community of hobbyists. And it's not just in popculture or geek culture in general -- I've run into kinkshaming quite often in the hobby as well. Is it an inevitable problem in any human community?
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"Most unusual circumstances or location in which you’ve gamed."

I live in a large, sprawling metropolis with a number of friends whose houses or apartments are available for gaming, and if not that, there is always Ludo -- so I don't think I can say I've gamed somewhere odd before. Gaming on the floor is already odd for me.

Probably the oddest was during my company's summer outing, which was functionally just giving everyone a hotel room in the middle of the city to take our family or friends to. I'd booked two hotel rooms and invited my then-girlfriend and two friends, and then in the evening decided to play a session of Dungeon World before bed. Hotels are full of beds with no tables to really use, so it was a strange set up. I've been told that that's how people in conventions play RPGs, and I don't think it's very comfortable. I've got too many notebooks and sheets of paper to be comfortable without a solid surface at a decent height for writing.

On the other hand, my group and I are planning a trip out of the city for a few nights in December, and we might marathon a few RPGs there. That sounds like it will be great fun.
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"What hobbies go well with RPGs?"

I feel that the only answer I have to give is reading, or in general, the consumption of stories. To create a good story means having consumed many stories, because stories is how we learn vicariously of things that we otherwise would have to experience for ourselves to know.

The stories that we consume come out a lot in our playing, or in the case of GMs, in their running of games. Sometimes I think about noting down my observations to verify them later on, since it's an interesting thing to watch. I had a GM before who primarily got his inspiration from TV and film, and it came out in how cutscenes and transitions were done in the game, while my other GM who reads a lot of fantasy books reflected the same sort of subtext in his NPCs.

Even in that, I find that GMs who watch a lot of anime versus Western films typically used different tropes for their NPCs, and so on and so forth, since stories linked to one culture or another are often also quite different. I've had two GMs who are quite heavy book readers run their games in completely different ways, because they also read vastly different genres of fiction. While I don't think any one source is better than others, I will admit that there are some stories that I adapt to better by virtue of my own consumption.
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"What makes for a good character?"

There are countless studies on this in the fiction writing sphere: what is a good character and what makes them good? The usual answer will include good backgrounds, character motivations, personality and personality quirks, and character stories that can and will be developed. There are numerous theses on "Mary Sues" and their indicators.

I then approach this question with a reminder: RPGs are collaborative and not solo fiction writing activities, so a good character in a tabletop game does not by necessity follow the rules of good characters in solo writing endeavors, though they have many overlaps and I would say that majority of those rules would apply. But tabletop roleplaying characters don't grow the same way simply because they don't follow a script or a vision dictated by only one writer. In the first place and speaking as someone who has written and read a lot of fanfiction in the past, I feel that "Mary Sue" is a term that should strictly only apply to fanfiction where one has canon to use as a baseline, because the factors affecting character creation for anything else is too complex to put a reliable rubric on.

There are leeways that should be made available to roleplaying characters from the understanding that most of the time, players have the tendency to make main characters for their adventures. Thus, I don't subscribe to the idea that tabletop characters shouldn't be super special snowflakes, because some games are really designed for you be one, and that is all right. You might not be the main character of the world, but you are the main character in your story.


We're all Mary Sues!


The difficulty of roleplaying games might be, then, is that your character can be good or bad independent of yourself as a player. There are more factors in play, such as the consistency of the world as presented by the GM, or the style and narrative direction of your fellow players that may run counter to your plans. Even the timing of games alone can affect how one plays their character. Thankfully, because tabletop roleplaying is also a social activity, these are things you can communicate with your table about.

Do I think that good characters are those who should have good backgrounds, motivations, and development? Yes. But ultimately, like with any roleplaying game or any game that is social in nature, a good character is really anyone you have fun with and with whom the other people in the table also have fun with as well. I feel that due to the collaborative storytelling nature of tabletop RPGs, regardless of how "crunchy" or "narrative" the game is, a good character is simply one that contributes to the fun experience of people at the table.

On the other hand, even if good characters don't necessarily have to have in-depth backstories or extremely fleshed out personalities, I do find that great characters typically do. Characters can be more than their stats. So while your half-orc barbarian with an axe is fine, your character would be more memorable and may enhance table experience more if you indicate that your half-orc is a maudlin character who likes to eat fine food and likes to pretend he's an eloquent scholar when in fact he's a crazy, raging berserker with a temper as short as a match stick and is endlessly embarrassed by it.

Anyway, narrowing the topic back to myself: A good character for me to play is someone I feel I can adapt to most situations without imposing too much on other players, while still staying true to the character's personality and motivations. For this reason, all of my D&D5e characters are neutral good despite a wide variety of motivations and personality (from the dourest of the dour, to wide-eyed enthusiasm). It's a little harder on my grumpier characters, but I also take into consideration the party composition when I make those ones -- it's easier to go with wild party decisions as long as the goals align, so being a waspish grumpo is all right.

I have a preference for what you might consider "side characters" to a greater story, characters who don't really matter so much in the grander scheme of things in the world, but nevertheless contribute to the narrative in their own way. I've made the potato farmer caught up in mysterious events, and the sailor dragged into situations too amazing for him to fathom. But I've also made heroes when the setting calls for it, like the shipwright so passionate the gods themselves took notice of her endeavors. In the end, as long as I have a good handle on the character, I'm typically satisfied with them. When I can, off the top of my head, come up with an appropriate answer to the question, "What would [Character] do?" without pondering for it for a long time. If you ask me what they are doing at any given period of the day, and I have an answer for you. These are typically the characters whom I feel have a good footing in the setting and the world, such that their growth and, as a result, their actions flow naturally from session to session.
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"What is the game you are most likely to give to others?"

There are a number of games that I would highly recommend to friends, including Cypher, Fate Core, and Dungeon World, but in terms of actually giving someone the copy of a game, it would probably be Pirate World. Not because I highly recommend it (I haven't actually played it), but because it's one of the few games that I own that no one else in my group does or isn't free for download (or too expensive in the case of Cypher).

Pirate World has a bit of a rocky history in that it took three years for the Kickstarter's promised PDFs to be delivered, and there was an issue with the writer's real name and identity being false on the Kickstarter (I think) and other such strange problems. Some backers wanted to get together to sue him! I didn't mind it so much because I only invested ten dollars into the game, though, and eventually was only pleasantly surprised to get my pledge reward PDF. Now I can cry "Ships!" and say, "I even have a pirate game if you want to run it for me, hint hint."
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"Share one of your best “Worst Luck” stories."

In the recent D&D event I attended, my halfling fighter Wilem Tealeaf needed to kill an orc before being able to move on to assist his other party members in rescuing a few prisoners from a smithy's fire. We were running our third mission of the D&D Epic Reclamation of Phlan, and this was our third mission for the night.

Anyway, Wilem has two-weapon fighting and so moved forward to strike the orc out in what should have been a decisive blow. On my first strike, Wilem rolled a 1. So he rerolled it using halfling luck, and... got another 1. What the hell.

On my second attack, he missed by just a little, so I figured that if I used my superiority dice to add a d8 to it, I only needed to roll a 3 or higher to hit. Wilem of course... rolls a 2. Defeated, I sighed and figured out the best way to remove myself from this orc to get to my party mates, without dying from both the orc and the big wolf occupying 20 square feet worth of mapspace just a few blocks ahead of me.

I did get to the party on the turn after that through sheer luck as well. I ran away from the orc uninjured (superiority dice to add to AC), and then bypassed the wolf by rolling a crit on animal handling. The wolf found my halfling too small to bother with and let me in the door to rejoin the rest of the party.
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"Supposedly random game events that keep recurring?"

In general, I tend to have awful rolls with my dice, which is why I prefer systems that allow for hedging and increasing my chances of success beyond a single roll. In D&D5e, I favor halflings (they have lucky and can reroll 1s), and as for systems, I tend towards those like Numenera/Cypher and Fate because they allow one to influence the difficulty of the obstacle by making reasonable narrative decisions to ease challenge difficulties.

Apparently, halfling luck only gets me as far as rerolling to... 2. Or 3. Last Saturday in Conclave.ph's D&D event, I rerolled my 1s into another 1 thrice over the course of two games and about nine hours of play. I can go through a single Fate session rolling both four minuses and four pluses before the day's end. Disadvantage in D&D 5e? Of course I roll a 1 and a 20. It's been better in recent years than they used to be, but some days I wonder if some probability god must be angry with me out there.
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"Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?"

This one isn't for a tabletop roleplaying game, but for the boardgame Robinson's Crusoe.

In that game, players take up one of four roles as stranded adventurers in the island and work together to survive the harsh environment while trying to fulfill various scenario objectives. It can be quite stressful, and the randomization of your success in gathering food, creating items, and exploration can throw massive wrenches into plans unless you hedge your bets by not gambling on things.

Players can also get a "helper" that will let them access extra actions in every round after gaining that helper. It's very useful because allotting one action towards gathering, for example, will let you have a chance at successfully gathering what you need (sometimes with side effects), but putting two actions into it will remove the dice roll (usually) and just flat out give you what you want without rolling. A player only had two actions in a round, so a helper was always a much welcomed improvement.

In our first few games, we thought that the helper goes away after one round. So we would take pains to employ this helper, use him for a round, and then send him away. We'd still win our objectives, but it was really rough going, so when we found out that we had been doing this part wrong, we fondly called it Hard Mode.
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"Most challenging but rewarding system you have learned?"

Without a doubt, despite how easy it actually is as a system once you've gotten the gist of it, Fate Core was the most challenging system I've had to learn. The gameplay is pretty easy once you know the set actions you can do and what they can be used for (e.g., create advantage or overcome obstacles), but I find character creation fairly difficult.

The skills part of the character sheet is fine, and I think the stunts follow a fairly easy-to-use template, but the aspects are always, regardless of how many games I play of it, just maddeningly frustrating. This is even more true of characters I have to use for campaigns that last more than one session long. I am, in fact, on my fourth game of Fate Core. There's just no clear, objective metric to it that I can digest properly, so judging whether an aspect is good or not, or suitable or not, is often something I struggle with and leave for the rest of the table to decide. Perhaps I'm just overthinking things, or maybe I'm not thinking enough, but nothing is evocative enough, or useful enough, or accurate enough, or has just the enough number of words. I find the samples in the book fairly terrible and lack a certain sense of consistency as well, though I have heard good things about War of Ashes sample aspects, so I might give it a try soon.

There was also a challenge of unlearning the more traditional sequences in roleplaying games, like for example asking about initiative and turn order, but I feel that I didn't have that much difficulty there compared to character generation. What did help me transition to Fate was playing Dungeon World a few times, as being a simple, narrative-focused system that removes you from the more numerical mindsets of crunchier games but places you in familiar setting with enough familiar terms that it's not such a jarring change.

But anyway, once I've completed the massive hurdle of creating a character, I find that Fate is a system that is rewarding to play in campaigns. The movesets and skills are simple but flexible, and support an endless variety of actions you can think for your character to take. The system can be used for a lot of different settings, as evidenced by the numerous small-book releases using it for their gameplay. Contests are easy to facilitate even from a player standpoint, and the focus on aspects and narratives can be exciting and lead to great storytelling. I've never not had fun in a Fate session, despite playing it with different people, some of them complete strangers.

It's just, you know. I want to be able to create aspects, and have them be accepted with only minor revisions!
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"Best way to learn a new game?"

Tongue-in-cheek, the first thing I was about to say is, "I have to play it to learn it," but upon some reflection I realize that this isn't actually true. There are some systems that I learned better by reading them, like Cypher/Numenera and Remnants, leading me to be the one to teach my fellow players (and even the GM) the mechanics of play. There are others that I learned better through play despite reading the text because I found the text difficult to mentally follow and translate into action, like Fate Core and Houses of the Blooded, so I had to rely on going through the motions numerous times to get it; Houses of the Blooded in particular remained something of a mystery to me until I read a really comprehensive review online that laid down the mechanics in a structured way that I could parse. Others still, I will admit that I didn't even read at all before the game, and only relied on my GM to teach me the mechanics during the game, like Malifaux, D&D 5e, Legends of the Five Rings, Shadowrun 5E, and Exalted Ex3.

What I do notice though is that if I read the text at some point, I'll tend to remember the details better. For broader systems like Shadowrun, D&D5e, and Exalted Ex3, I tended to read only the parts that were relevant to my character to get a better understanding of their unique systems, so that I don't have to be bothersome to the GM when it came to my actions and their mechanics. This is particularly true for the crafting system in Exalted Ex3 (as I wrote about in my review here, especially since I was the only one in the table actually using those mechanics.

I think it's all to do with information flow and retention. It's a lot like studying for school (and I am always in a class of some sort): if I have to process it and restructure the information to teach someone else the information, or at least teach myself, I will remember it forever. I can teach Cypher to pretty much anyone because of this.

This seems more or less in line with some material I found online about learning things, particularly this pyramid from Sunday School:



Because even in the process of reading I tend to re-organize the information in my head to better convey it to others, which I suppose raises my retention rate for them.

I am pretty fortunate in that I am playing in a group full of educators, teachers, tutors, reviewers, and other patient people when it comes to teaching others games, so if there is something I have difficulty understanding, approaching others is something I can do.