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Ars Arcana Blog 3-1: A Party Comes Together

A Party Comes Together: A Modal Approach to Group Dynamics
Travis Joseph Rodgers
Ars Arcana Blog
Volume III, Number 1

Two of the central struggles associated with an RPG party - as opposed to the players or the game itself - are how to bring a diverse group of characters together in the first place and how to keep them sufficiently together in the long run to keep them a party. I draw out two distinct polaristic approaches that are especially difficult to make work for most groups: hard railroad and utter chaos. I draw out a third possibility, based on modal operators (what is possible, what is necessary, what is impossible).

Hard Railroad
Whatever railroading is in an RPG, there is a bad version of it. Eliminating player agency altogether seems also to eliminate the role of the player. This seems antithetical to the nature of an RPG (it's a ROLE PLAYING game, after all). At the same time, what amounts to railroading will depend upon what an agent wants to do. If an agent wants to rem…
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Ars Arcana Blog: 2.8 - In Search of a Railroad

In Search of a Railroad (1 of 2 on Railroading) Travis Joseph Rodgers
Evidently, one of the worst things that can happen in an RPG is railroading. It sounds terrible, at least, to hear from many who discuss the topic on Twitter’s #rpg or #ttrpg tags. So, consider this brief essay an exercise in conceptual analysis. I’m simply attempting to understand what railroading is, such that it is objectionable.
The RPG Theory Review blog has the following to say: Railroading only takes place when player actions are prevented from having any effect on the flow of events.
Stack Exchange diagnoses the central wrong of Railroading: It's generally frowned upon, because it disrupts the free-will oriented nature of roleplaying.
The Angry GM agrees: Railroading used to refer to the GM forcing the players on a predetermined path through a story.
Even TV Tropes.Org chimes in: In short, the GM takes any measure necessary to ensure there is only one direction the campaign may proceed — his planned dire…

Dungeon Chatter's Character Spark

After podcasting about the character SPARK in episdoe O is for Origins, we decided to put together a document that could be downloaded for free to demonstrate the concept. In this document, you'll find quick selection (choose) or generation (roll) tables to help you create a character concept. If you're feeling stumped or looking to play a different sort of character, give it a shot. There are literally millions of possible combinations of characteristics.

This link SHOULD work...

RPG Character Concept: SPARK

Ars Arcana Blog 2.7: Creating a Character SPARK

Ars Arcana Blog: Bringing Your Character to Life with SPARK
Travis J. Rodgers

The Challenge(s) For the grizzled vet of RPGs, creating a character is often a struggle of too many options rather than not knowing where to start. The character concept comes easily to mind, either because there is a character the vet has been wanting to play or because vets often have served as GM as well as player for so long, character concepts seem to spring from an endless font. The challenge becomes determining which of the system options is the best way to make use of your character concept. Let’s call this the “How? Question” of character design. On the other hand, for the relative novice to Roleplaying, the challenge is two-fold. In addition, to the struggles of navigating a system’s options, the novice may not have, and may struggle to create, the character concept. Let’s call this new question the “What? Question” of character design.
The SPARK In an episode of the Dungeon Chatter Podcast called “O…

Ars Arcana Blog: Why No One Understands Alignment

Why No One Understands Alignment
Travis J. Rodgers
Alignment was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons as a character (NPC or PC) attribute. It wasn’t rolled for; it was typically selected, but sometimes a particular alignment was necessitated by the character’s race or class. But what is ostensibly a kind of “outlook” piece, cross-indexing a regard for law and chaos on one axis and good and evil on the other is at best a concept evolving across game versions. This fact would explain why long-time gamers, or at least gamers who have played multiple iterations of D&D, might view alignment differently from others. At worst, however, it’s essentially meaningless. There’s a middle path, which may be its original intent, one according to which alignment is both meaningful and quite objective – but then it’s extremely contentious. My considered view is that alignment is either meaningless or objective in a way that many players do not like (which is accurate is undertermined – the descript…

Paranormal Play by Play: Session Recap

Strange Beginnings Session 1
Recap of session 1 with game design and module design notes in italics.
Bringing a party together is probably the biggest challenge in a present-day supernatural game. As a GM, you’re essentially introducing the supernatural element while at the same time dealing with the challenges of forming a party that would in reality form and stick together. The PCs did an excellent job with the individual pieces of the story they had from character creation and session zero, so that made the task much easier. This module needs a strong hook in order to get the buy-in necessary to serve as a session 1.
So, after receiving a text message from a missing co-worker asking for help, Riley (played by Erika) summoned two contacts and hit the road. In tow were Brian, a gun aficionado, and Dani, a paramedic. For his part, Brian, played by Austin, was happy to go along even if he didn’t quite understand what was at stake. Dani, on the other hand, looked a few times like she had…

Ars Arcana Blog 2.5: Levelling Encounters

Ars Arcana Blog 2.5 Travis Joseph Rodgers Levelling Encounters
You’re planning a scenario for a new party, but you’re not sure of their precise capabilities. You don’t want them to be able to walk through every encounter without fear, but you also don’t want them to die before they have a chance to explore the scenario you’ve plotted. You need help levelling encounters.
The advice contained herein comes with a few important caveats, but if you observe the caveats, you can tailor and tweak encounters to give the precise feel and flavor you and your players are striving for. First, this approach works best with games that use levels, but it can apply well to games without levels, too. It just takes another step. Second, levels might not scale exactly similarly in different games. Still, that doesn’t mean that helpful guidelines cannot be constructed. Third, parties and players are individuals; they may have unanticipated skills, plans, and the dice may be ever in their favor (or against i…