375 Motivation, Believability, Immersion

Not your mother or father’s IBM.

We talk about making a setting/world believable, immersive, for us/our players - keep them motivated to keep the verisimilitude working.


1 Like

With regards to verisimilitude I like it when the game takes names seriously.

I don’t mind humor at the table, but when you have that one guy who names his Paladin “Poopy Mc Margarine-Pants”, or names his dwarf “Grumpy” or “Sneezy”, or the DM starts naming NPC villains after porn stars, I get annoyed.
This of course is a tone thing, but I am frustrated by how often it has come up over the years.

Rory, aka: Grumpy McGrognard


Oh - it was great to hear you guys again!
You were missed.


To get my initial interest and investment in a game, it needs a good elevator pitch. Like a dog seeing a squirrel from the corner of his eye, a good pitch can make me stop and chase that game up a tree.

Since that explanation alone is vague and unhelpful on its own, I think the ultimate question I want answered is, “Why am I playing?” or “Why does my character get involved?” In some cases, “Why is this game different or unique?” will do the trick, but that doesn’t always work out in the long run. Sure, Dark Sun takes place on a desert world and that’s one reason why it’s different, but that’s like saying Dune is about people fighting on a sand planet. But to know that Dark Sun is a game about harsh survival on an alien world that’s about as Tolkien as a Lovecraft story… now we’re getting somewhere.

I guess what I want nowadays is a more believable purpose for my character. All of the characters, actually. Why do our characters have to save the day? That’s a big one for me. Playing in worlds where powerful rulers of large kingdoms who need to hire mercenaries to stop something evil feels weak and repetitive. Giant monsters are found on every damn hex, but the toughest NPC in the book is a merchant or a Sargeant-at-Arms with 20 hit points? Been there, done that. Now, stopping an invasion or getting involved in stopping a war of nations is getting better. The status quo has failed. But even then… haven’t I played that already?

Recently, I’ve been really appreciating games built on allegory that represent something else in the real world. Like how Night Witches is as much about World War II fighter pilots as it is about rampant sexism and misogyny. It’s always seemed like science fiction had a monopoly on allegory, but other genres can help us address other issues in the form of fictional characters and fictional worlds without shouting it from the rooftops. It doesn’t even have to be built into the game itself. You could run a Dark Sun game with a strong environmental component to it as you play characters following the orders of a defiler, only to discover the horrific consequences of their magic on an already perilous world. Sure, it’s the defiler who’s corrupting the world, but they didn’t do it alone.

It’s an approach I’ve applied into my own designs recently. For example, Pandora: Total Destruction is a game about supers with destructive powers AND systemic institutionalizations. Sure, you’re very powerful people with powers beyond imagination (and control), but you’re also prisoners locked up because of factors beyond your control. Ironbound is much about colonization and sacrificing personal morales in the face of war as it is about witches chucking spells at giant machines. Incorporating these difficult subjects into action-packed games has allowed me to address issues important to me in a format that can be leaned into as hard or as light as you prefer.

Much like watching Terminator 2 still makes me ponder the terrifying prospect of nuclear war, I want games that make me think on the drive home in ways beyond which feat I should choose at the next level.


My issue as a GM used to be my group, granted mostly in our 20s, when players would intentionally do what you’re mentioning to the NPC names. So, I started having NPCs “overhear” the PCs say those things.

1 Like

The guys I play with are in their 40’s and 50’s and none of that has changed.

That is why I never source the table Mr. Weston.

Happy Gaming,

1 Like

I’ve thought about gagging the table…

Awesome hearing how your Vaesen game is going, Brett, and that you’ve been able to use it as an escape from trying times.

You are so right about the simplicity of the system. I’m running it for buddies who have limited experience with rpgs outside of D&D and Mothership. We debated between Call of Cthulhu and Vaesen and I think this version of the YZE mechanics appealed to them. It’s not as crunchie as Forbidden Lands or Coriolis. Figuring out the dice pools is quick and easy (I’m not a big vtt with the automated rolling) which keeps the action moving.

The setting was a draw. You’ve got the “Sight” so you know mythical things exist. Those things are pissed off at the way the world is progressing, they’re strange but not unknowable horrors that will leave your PC dead or insane and it’s your job to figure out what’s wrong and try to fix it.

Like you mentioned, the Fear mechanics are great. Fail a Fear test and the player gets to choose from four options for how they react. For players who hate losing agency, allowing them to choose gets them to really buy into how they’ll role play the encounter.

Hopefully, your kids will want to continue. Building up the Castle headquarters is another amazing aspect of the game. To see it develop, and how you as the GM can use that to build new mysteries, is a ton of fun.

If you’re a new gamer the book does an amazing job explaining how to run and design your own mysteries, possibly better then any I’ve seen in any other book. And its well laid out with brilliant artwork. I’d dare say it’s the best game produced by Free League at the moment!

I look forward to hearing your review!

To answer @Fafhrd’s question on the show, I did stop to think about this one. Mainly because it’s rare for me to be a player (and it’s been two frickin’ years since playing any RPG until this past weekend). So I thought about this from the POV of attending a con, where I’m very inclined to try new things.

(No, not THOSE new things. Ok, yeah, maybe I do like to experiment at cons, but that’s for another discussion.)

With that in mind, I know system is the first appeal for me. If the game’s mechanics support the underlying theme(s), I’m far more inclined to sign up because then I don’t have to place all my trust on the GM. A stranger. Unless I have a direct reference from someone I know and trust, the system becomes my assurance that these kind of themes has been treated with respect and responsibility. It’s been tested at multiple tables with multiple GMs and holds mustard.

But it also provides everyone at the table with options to address and incorporate these themes into various aspects of gameplay. While not the case 100% of the time, games built to support these themes tend to provide mechanical tools for everyone at the table. That means these themes aren’t just things that will happen to our characters, we’ll also be able to actively address it.

Which also includes safety tools… but this is where my answer becomes blurry. Because while safety tools are defined as being an absolute state (meaning they work the same at every game), they are completely dependent on the GM. When a GM screws up a rule, it becomes immediate apparent at the table. Screwing up safety tools can be a slow burn until the table is completely engulfed in flames.

A GM with a casual attitude towards safety tools in games like this gets a hard pass from me. Regardless of the game’s mechanics. Those who shit on safety tools AND want to play a game with underlying mature themes is dangerous, IMO. I spoke with a backer for a game that planned on a stretch goal to create a game about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. He railed against the use of safety tools for a game this hardcore and pulled the whole “never had a problem in 20 years of playing” crap. That kind of GM is dangerous and is the type who will pull a rape scene out of their hat for a game of Kids On Bikes and wonder why the backlash.

So I guess my answer is… it depends?

And @sean mentioned something about BSers starting podcasts… funny you should mention that. I’m about to launch a podcast with my good friend and co-conspirator, Danielle DeLisle. It’s called Covenstead and talks about games, magic, and how they intersect. How Pagansim has shaped the hobby and what roleplayers have in common with modern day witches. We’re hoping to drop our first episodes soon.



Launch show yet, @Warden ?

Not yet. Still putting on the finishing touches (show music, intro, touching up the audio). Then we need to get some kind of website and/or social media set up.

When it’s ready, I’ll let ya know.