The Gassy Gnoll is hosting a blog carnival this month! A variety of RPG bloggers are all asking the question “What’s in your backpack?” Here’s the answers from the Fandible crew.
The matter of my backpack and its contents has not been a subject of discussion until this very moment, but now that I consider the objects that I have with me on almost any occasion I must admit to feeling a bit of apprehension. Pride, yes, but also a slight trace of fear. This has to do with the fact that I am now going to recite, from memory, the objects that I never fail to have in my actual bag, but I cannotÂ possiblyÂ tell you where the hell my keys, phone or necessary identifications for school or work are. You can understand that this gives me slight pause as I consider the implications regarding leaving my apartment with no way to get back in, but knowingÂ exactlyÂ where my four-years unused Magic deck is. Clearly Iâ€™m concerned that Iâ€™ll be that asshole who shows up somewhere without enoughÂ blue mana.
But I digress. Let me recite the actual, physical things that I had in my backpack just this past Saturday:
-An abundance of pens and pencils, which are as useful at a gaming table like cigarettes are in prison. No one has them, everybody needs them, and now youâ€™re a big shot and can make someone your bitch (the dynamics of your gaming group may vary slightly).
-Notebooks filled with intellectual ruminations like â€œSummon Crawling Horror on p. 240 but now they suckâ€ and â€œReminder: Learn your spells before next game because you just surrendered to kobolds like a punk.” Also a bulleted list of any weaknesses that Iâ€™ve sensed in the other players at the table.
-A Crown Royal Canadian Whisky bag filled with assorted dice. This says â€œI like drinking and am a huge nerd.â€ This is possibly the most concise representation of me as a person possible.
-A Finnish gas mask.
Let me explain that last one. I find that props assist in getting into character, from silly hats to small accessories, and on this particular day I was going to play in a post-apocalyptic setting. So, for the sake of atmosphere, I decided to bring along the best representation of a world awash in radioactive dust. Yes, I am method as hell.
It bears mentioning that I live in New York City and travel on the subway to get most places. In the event of a police officer randomly searching my bag, this last object would guarantee that I would be very late to the game. This is only my second-biggest concern with my choice of game-related gear, however. The first is the actual apocalypse.
Hereâ€™s why: I am concerned that, while enroute to my gaming destination, the near-total annihilation of our species will occur and Iâ€™ll be buried in the subway tunnel. No big deal. Itâ€™s when my body is unearthed centuries later, however, that I worry about. Iâ€™m terrified that archaeologists in a distant future to think that my bagâ€™s contents are a perfect snapshot of our societyâ€™s ingrained priorities. It gives me chills to think that they would mistake my notes like â€œBilly is allergic to cats. Use this against him next time he GMâ€™sâ€ as holy text, or my bag of dice as artifacts that perfectly capture our cultural peak. What would they say about me? What would they say aboutÂ us?
One thingâ€™s for sure: They wonâ€™t say we didnâ€™t have enoughÂ blue mana.
I love being the player, but more often than not, I am the GM. And when my GM self comes forth, he must be a being that creates worlds, and thus, he has no time to not bring tools that donâ€™t create. For what is a GM but a framer of adventures? And if a GM cant frame, he is simply a non-framer. And to non-frame is a crime to all who frame. I am also fairly sure I am using frame incorrectly.
The Rulebook: Some would call it a rulebook, I call it a framework. Its rules help define the world, but when it becomes inconvenient, I am more than happy to get a metaphorical hammer and bend it to my game.
The notes: On one page is my story notes. Always 10 sentences that help guide the story for my players. On a good day, I use 8. On a bad day, the story is derailed as soon as my players open their mouths. Sure, go left instead of right, see if I care!!! Rip!
The dice/cards/whatever: So many ways to control the players. The players think the dice controls their fate. I know it just gives me a different way to set the fire.
The Microphone: The recorder of the players’ Sagas. The Blue microphone is a chronicler of my players adventure. And through this tech, it allows me to bring the games to the fandible podcast. Where others can laugh at our adventures and we can thrive on the joy we bring to others. At least it better, that thing cost me 100 bucks.
The Laptop: The great distractor. A necessary evil to help record the sagas, but its instant access to the devil known as the internet has become a grave threat. Many of my games have been interrupted by the allure of the Me Gusta meme or a cute kitten on a skateboard. You move at your own pace kitten. Donâ€™t let any cat tell you otherwise.
A top hat: The top hat is not a regular beast, but when it comes forth, the players know its time to prepare themselves. The game is going to become silly, and when silliness abounds, that is where madness lies. The line between madness and genius is very thin, and when the top hat comes forth, I have completely gone off the deep end. Time to roll dice my minions. Its story time and GM Jesus is more than ready to give you a big finish, one way or another.
I am the GM! I control worlds, I define rules, I bend reality to my will. Gaze upon my hat and tremble. Then get me a Pepsi, because I am just plain exhausted and need a sugar rush.
There are some games (and GMs) that are super-concerned with what the adventurers have on them at all times. Detailing down to the ounce how much their bag of holding can carry, how many rations do they have, how long is that length of rope or how sharp their fishing hooks are. And if that’s your style of game? More power to you! I hope you’re having a blast, because that’s what this is about at the end of the day.
For me, however, the little details like that get in the way of my gaming experience. I am a lifelong survivalist who spent two weeks in civilization before venturing back out into the wilderness -Â of course I have a flint and steel for lighting fires. That same adventurer knows she’s going into aÂ mountainousÂ region – yes, she has rope. And does it really add anything to the story to know the rope is 50 feet long versus “long enough” to safely climb most rock faces?
The exception, however, is when the game doesn’t involve experienced adventurers. Or they were thrust unexpectedly into a dangerous situation, either through their own hubris or through the GMs evil plotting. Or another setting where vital resources may be scarce – such as the hollow Earth of Hollow Earth Expedition.
As the GM for Fandible’s game of HEX, I make my players keep stringent count of their resources. Jack can’t just buy more bullets when he finds civilized people – he needs to gable for them. Lamont Grover is in serious danger of running out of film, which would be devastating to his motivation. Low on resources, but desperately wanting a transistor radio, the resident mad scientist must go on a sidequest to track down 40 nails in order to have something of use to trade with (and yes, the players have a spot on the back of their character sheets where they’re marking off every single time they find a nail. They’re always quite excited when it happens!).
Why the sudden change of heart when it comes to keeping track of resources? This is what sets Hollow Earth apart from many other adventure games with fantastic settings (well, that and the Nazi-chasing-dinosaurs). Most people who end up in the Hollow Earth didn’t expect to be there, or even if they were prepared, supplies don’t last forever. Bullets are shot, sometimes inefficiently; ropes fray; bandits steal your nails. It requires new levels of resourcefulness to just keep these characters alive, let alone keeping the adventure going. And that’s reflected in the relative scarcity of resources, and the high prices that must be paid to acquire them.
When it comes to roleplaying, there are very few physical objects that I need. Well, yeah, the book, dice, and character sheet are awesome to have with me but still, not necessary. So, when I first heard about this â€˜whatâ€™s in your backpackâ€™ thing, I was a little disappointed! I had nothing to contribute.
Lucky for me, I actually read what they were asking and it seems I can use non-tangible objects. And those I have in spades!
The thing that I always bring with me to a roleplaying game is a voice unique from my own. Sometimes I will have accents, sometimes it just a different speech pattern. In the end, though, all my characters will have a unique voice that I evolve and work on before and during the game. Regardless if itâ€™s a horrible jumbled accent that Winston Churchmountain has or the lovable mish-mash of Orky clunkiness that Barsher speaks in, I will usually make sure to have an accent under my belt.
The second thing I try to bring into every game is a weakness. Iâ€™ve always believed that weakness makes the character. Think about it — every story out there is about a hero trying to overcome some weakness of theirs. Luke Skywalker was stuck at home and would never escape the farm. Corbin Dallas was stuck behind a cab chasing dreams of meeting The One. Spiderman wants to make his Uncle Ben proud while still trying to live a normal life. All these characters are not defined by their strengths, but by their weakness. So! Whenever I can make it happen, I try to bring in a character weakness while creating the character.
So, those are my two things I bring with me in my backpack.
Oh! And always a clean pair of underwear. Never know when your GM will surprise you.
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