Good RPGs encourage good experiences—it doesn’t matter how!

Declaring that a game is “good” (or, worse, “bad”) is almost always a controversial prospect. In general, I prefer to say that I have liked or disliked a game rather than claim that it has an absolute or objective quality. “Good” is a subjective distinction, and opinion will vary from player to player.

That said, I feel pretty confident in defining what a good game is, as long as the definition itself leaves room for subjectivity.

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What I want in a new edition of Cortex Plus Dramatic

cortex-plus-hackers-guide-coverLast week, it was announced that Cam Banks has licensed Cortex Plus from Margaret Weis Productions. Cam co-created the Cortex Plus system, and he was co- or lead designer on three out of the four main games published using that system, not to mention the driving force behind the excellent Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. He knows Cortex Plus inside out and he can do wonderful things with it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what his new design studio Magic Vacuum comes out with! I’ve no doubt that soon there will be new versions of Cortex Plus Action (used for Leverage and Firefly) and Cortex Plus Heroic (used for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying), which will make many fans of the system happy.

But my favourite is Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying, which was spun out of the Smallville Roleplaying Game. It’s the only one of the three that gives me something I can’t currently get from any other RPG. I love it, but it has flaws. It could use a new edition.

Here’s what I would want to be updated, changed, clarified or kept in a new edition of Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying.

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Character advancement vs Character development

Anakin Skywalker's journey to become Darth Vader: Fear, Anger, Hate, Suffering.
Character advancement and character development sometimes go hand in hand… but character development isn’t always a joyful experience for the character itself

One of the great joys of playing roleplaying games, especially playing a single character through a long campaign, is in seeing your character grow and change. In traditional high fantasy games, it’s fun to rise from humble beginnings to be an important and powerful figure in the campaign world.

However, it’s relatively rare in roleplaying games to see the sort of deep, personal character transformation that you might see in books, TV shows or films. That’s because the sort of growth and change encouraged by traditional roleplaying games is different from the growth and change that most popular media is built on.

Character advancement is not the same thing as character development.

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Hubris Box: A draft

Hubris Box is a diceless roleplaying game that I wrote based on a core mechanic created by Paul Richardson.1 In a game of Hubris Box, players collaboratively tell the story of a protagonist whose ambition spurs them to greatness before they are destroyed by their own flaws.

I posted about Hubris Box before, in a three-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) that presented the rules I developed for the game and an example of play that depicted the musical Hamilton as a session of Hubris Box with three players. Hamilton made sense to me as an example because it fit the narrative structure I was aiming for, but it turns out that a lot of people avoided reading those blog posts because they hadn’t listened to Hamilton yet.

Therefore, here are the rules for my version of Hubris Box with the play example removed. If anyone gives it a try, please please please let me know how it goes and what you think. This is a first draft and will almost certainly need tweaking, and I’d appreciate any feedback I get. Thanks!

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Hamilton and the Hubris Box, Part 3 of 3: The World Turned Upside Down

hamilton_deliverance_by_twistedcaliber-d9p3fds

This is the third and final part of a blog series modelling the musical Hamilton as if it was a session of the (work-in-progress) roleplaying game Hubris Box, which is about the rise and fall of tragic heroes.

What’s going on?

In the first blog post, I introduced the idea behind Hubris Box and introduced the fictional characters who are playing the game. In the most recent blog post, I showed an example of the game’s first Act, in which the Protagonist wrote several cards and posted them to the Hubris Box in order to chase his ambition and accumulate power and glory.

The example game is played by three roleplayers (Lin, Manuel, and Miranda), and it set in a fictional land called America. Lin is playing the game’s Protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, who rose from humble beginnings to be a war hero and is now Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington. Manuel and Miranda are playing everyone else, taking the role of the game’s Antagonists.

You can listen to the musical Hamilton at the link if you haven’t already. Some people who haven’t heard it yet seem to think it’s a barrier, and have avoided reading the blog post. Instead, I think it’s an opportunity for you to listen to an amazing show, even if musicals aren’t usually your thing.

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Hamilton and the Hubris Box, Part 2 of 3: Rise Up!

Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and his allies Lafayette, Laurens and Mulligan. Set photo from the musical

This is the second part of a blog series modelling the musical Hamilton as if it was a session of the (work-in-progress) roleplaying game Hubris Box, which is about the rise and fall of tragic heroes.

What’d I miss?

In the previous blog post, I introduced the idea behind Hubris Box and introduced the fictional characters who are playing the game. Three roleplayers (Lin, Manuel, and Miranda) have set up a game in a fictional land called America, just before the Revolutionary War that frees the country from the tyrannical British. Lin is playing the game’s Protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, an orphan immigrant with a brilliant mind and a hunger to prove himself. Manuel and Miranda are playing everyone else, taking the role of the game’s Antagonists.

Before you continue, consider listening to the musical Hamilton if you haven’t already. In this blog series I’m only hitting the beats without the melody. It’ll make more sense if you’ve heard it before.

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Hamilton and the Hubris Box, Part 1 of 3: The world is gonna know your name

Theater-Hamilton Cast Album

Hubris Box is a roleplaying game by Paul Richardson that is designed to emulate classic stories of tragic heroes, especially ones with great ambition who do incredible (if often villainous) feats and are later destroyed by the consequences of their past actions.

The game’s structure mirrors Aristotelian tragic plot structure. In Act One, as the protagonist takes actions to achieve their ambitions, players write on index cards (or scraps of paper) phrases that reflect the way that the protagonist has influenced the world. These cards are then posted into a box, the eponymous Hubris Box. Eventually, there is a Turn leading into Act Two, in which the players take cards out of the Hubris Box and use them to frame scenes that tear the protagonist down. For example, in Act One a card may say that the protagonist has defeated an enemy; when this card emerges in Act Two, perhaps the defeated enemy’s people return for revenge.

It’s a very cool game. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t exist yet.

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