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Pencil: Welcome to the Probably Bad Podcast, a podcast that is definitely bad. I’m Pencil
Paper: I’m Paper. Today’s probably bad RPG idea is…
dice rolling noise
Pencil: Every time you introduce a new NPC, roll a D20. On a one it’s actually Asmodeous, Lord Of The Nine Hells, who’s here in disguise for reasons totally unrelated to the current plot.
Paper: Ok. First thought best thought: it’s gonna make seducing NPCs great!
Pencil: Russian Roulette NPC seduction
Paper: Can you imagine though? Like “I wanna seduce the bartender.” “He is a greater demon.” “I said I want to seduce the bartender.”
Pencil: I was thinking like, you go through the whole “ok I seduce the bartender”. “You go to bed with him BOOM you’re dragged into hell by Asmodeus, Lord of the Nine Hells, and that’s the end of your character. That’s what you get for derailing my plot to seduce people.”
Paper: I mean it’s not the worst punishment that, even that just us have thought of. We did give a guy ultra-syphilis and have to go on a whole side-quest to cure it
Pencil: Like, I’ve never heard the phrase “I gave a guy ultra-syphilis” before and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. But yes I…I think I’m going to stick with being punished by being dragged to hell by demons
Paper: But I am curious what the other options on the D20 would be. Like if you get a 10 is it just like “oh this is an owlbear”
Pencil: I like the idea of just like, it’s not like “it’s a normal person unless you roll a 20”, it’s just everyone is a different supernatural entity
Paper: Well I already roll for what race NPCs are so this is just a natural progression for me
Pencil: Yeah on a one it’s Asmodeus, on a natural 20 it’s God, and just between the two are just various…various spectrums
Paper: Ok so I was imagining it as a scale of how powerful they are like 20 was gonna be just…an elderly gnome but I quite like the idea that it’s more about alignment than power
Pencil: Yeah you roll to see how dangerous and evil they are so on like a 20 it’s still an elderly gnome but like a really nice elderly gnome, but on a 2 it’s an elderly gnome that wants to stab you. Which gives the implication that elderly knife-welding gnomes are one step below Asmodeus in the devilish hierarchy
Paper: Did you say “knife-welding”?
Paper: Blacksmiths are just the worst of the worst
Pencil: Blacksmiths are like the second step below Satan, confirmed. I notice that this isn’t on the script we have for this
Paper: To be fair blacksmiths do work in a fiery pit. I’ve played Skyrim, I’ve seen these fiery pits
Pencil: Like, hell isn’t like a place of evil, it’s just a place that has fire and any place that has fire is hell
Paper: (creepy voice) Hell is empty and all the blacksmiths are here. (normal voice) Getting back to the actual idea though…
Paper: I do like it because like I said I do roll for what race NPCs are and I do like it just as a way of making your world a bit more diverse. ‘Cos it’s quite easy to play a game of say Dungeons and Dragons and it’s just…
Pencil: It’s just humans
Paper: Everyone is a human and like, the party is all sorts of nonsense and everyone they meet is human and that’s just how the world is
Pencil: Yeah I mean like you could use the reincarnation table for it. You’d probably need to like edit a few things but…yeah. I like the way sort of…in the setting we’re using each country has one race that is like…one species I don’t really like to use the word…
Paper: Well yeah ‘cos I mean, if you’re basically having fantasy races as a stand-in for like…actual real world diversity, it does make sense to me to have “well this is where that group’s from, but there’s also other people there” ‘cos like, (singsong) that’s how the world works!
Pencil: Like, also on sort of the more, you know, Asmodeus level rather than just a devil that happens to be working in the local shops, like, I do like the idea of just occasionally having just…maybe rather than literally you find Asmodeus working at the local cashier, you find evidence of a cult of Asmodeus or of Asmodeus’s presence or that sort of thing. Just as a kind of…just as another thing that sort of sweeps in and shakes up the plot? So you have whatever main quest you’re going on and every so often just…kind of like random side-quests I guess
Paper: Yeah it’s almost like kind of a procedurally generated plot
Pencil: Yeah. Because yeah I know I’ve…I know what I’ve sort of…like at the moment I’m running a superhero RPG and sort of the vague way I’m doing it is essentially there are just clues for what different supervillains are doing and the plot is almost entirely decided by which one players come after rather than me deciding ahead of time which one is going to be the big bad and I think it’s sort of, yeah, next step beyond that of just like, you have various forces doing things and every so often one will just swoop into the area that you’re in
Paper: It does make a lot of sense to just have bad guys doing bad things in the background like, hey players, not everything is about you
Pencil: Yeah, but yeah like Asmodeus is just invading this town. You know, he has a life outside of you smashing up his cultists
Paper: And if you want to help, that’s great, if you don’t, move on to the next side quest
Pencil: Yeah I feel like it’s possibly an idea. Like it might be a bit too much bookkeeping but if you’re like, as a GM you’re up to it just having like a few villains doing background things that the players might bump into. They might not. They might not actually show up or they might not care just, as a way of making it feel more like a world where things are happening rather than a sandbox the players happen to be in
Paper: But you could have the villains doing relatively mundane things. Like, oh, Orcus is going grocery shopping, Asmodeus is on a date, just living their lives.
Pencil: Ok, I realise it probably wasn’t your intention but I like the idea that Orcus and Asmodeus are on a date with each other just…and the players bump into that. Yes, I like the implication that like, Orcus and Asmodeus are on a date with each other and this is how the Blood War ends
Paper: Yeah I like that a lot, just “hey by the way, while you were distracted rescuing this kitten the plot just kind of resolved itself. Off you go”
Pencil: I guess yeah that’s the other logical implication is you roll and the big bad is defeated by another adventuring party while you are off fucking around with side quests
Paper: But what if…you’re the one that sets up Orcus and Asmodeus? Like you’ve just, you’ve encountered them both, you figure two birds, one stone, just distract them with each other
Pencil: This is like…the bard that seduces everything. This is their final like, climactic challenge. Can they seduce the most powerful archdemon and the lord of the nine hells and get them to date?
Paper: But it’s not seducing them for themselves, so it’s an added challenge. Seduce them on someone else’s behalf
Pencil: What they have to do is they have to pretend to be Orcus while seducing Asmodeus and pretend to be Asmodeus while seducing Orcus so that when they meet they will be in love with each other
Paper: It’s like some sort of demonic parent trap!
Pencil: Exactly! I feel like this is the best possible like, campaign premise
Paper: I…would play this (laughing) I would absolutely play this. We’ve done it again folks! We went from “this is a terrible idea” to “yeah I’d play that”
Pencil: But yes, shall we answer some questions?
Paper: Yes! So that people are aware we now have more ways to get questions to us. We now have an email address! So you can message us on the Probably Bad RPG Ideas tumblr, preferably specifying that your question is for the podcast, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org where I, Mod Paper, will read everything that you send, at the risk of my own sanity. Our first question is from a friend of ours, username Hedwighood, who has asked “Worst RPG system you have ever played and why is it so terrible? Worst RPG system you have not played?”
Pencil: So, you have possibly heard of it if you are like, if you look up like, terrible roleplaying systems, but recently I tried playing “Dead Earth”. It’s a post-apocalyptic RPG and it’s fairly standard in that sense, it’s been a nuclear war, you’re surviving in the wasteland, duhduhduhduhduh. The rules system is, you roll for mutations. Mutations can include thing like normal mutations, they can include things like you’re unusually charitable they can…
Paper: Sorry, please define “normal mutations”
Pencil: As in tentacles and, you know, you’re green. The standard post-apocalyptic things
Pencil: Or you can roll that, like, you’re, you know, unusually charitable or unusually malicious which is maybe a bit…
Paper: Wait personalities are mutations?
Pencil: Personalities are mutations yes! You make an incredibly charitable and compassionate role and then no you’ve just mutated into being an asshole. Or! You can die. Just, start of character creation, you can roll and you can die. And a good ten percent of the table is things that will just kill you. And rules as written you can only ever play three characters of Dead Earth. Ever. Not in one campaign, or with one GM. Just ever. Which means, yes, I just died permanently for the entire game due to bad rolls and, yeah, I don’t think I can think of a worse system than “I create three characters, they all die before character creation and I’m banned from playing the game again”
Paper: I think that does have to win
Pencil: I am sorry for overriding whatever…overshadowing whichever one you’re about to say
Paper: I don’t think I’ve ever played any particularly bad systems. I am running a Feast of Legends game this Friday, but I haven’t played it yet
(a long pause)
Paper: I take your silence as just pure horror
Pencil: But yes if you want to know more about Feast of Legends you should see our last podcast. Spoiler it’s not very good. Bruin-Coll? Yeah. Bruin-Coll says “Some rpgs have a mechanic where players get an extra or better chance with a tradeoff e.g. Call of Cthulhu’s pushing yourself for a 2nd chance with worse consequences for a failure, or Blades in the Dark pushing for stress and Devil’s Bargains. Do you like these mechanics/have a favourite way to deal with players wanting to finagle better chances?”
Paper: I absolutely love these mechanics. Because a lot of the time they feel very realistic like the sort of thing where it’s like “yes you can hit the monster again or shoot a second arrow but it’s gonna be harder to do anything significant with that attack” as just the most basic version of it. I think it just…it makes a lot more sense than “sure you can just like hit this thing ten times in a turn and all of those times are gonna be hitting really really hard like you’ve just started your turn rather than like you’ve just swung a sword nine times”
Pencil: But yeah like I said like, the thing with RPGs is failure is always the most boring consequence? And I like the idea of like trying again with potentially worse consequences if you fuck up a second time. Just straight up failure is always the most boring consequence of a die roll and I think, yeah, it’s good to have something where it’s like “ok, you failed, but you get to try again where something worse might happen” especially because, you know, Blades in the Dark and Call of Cthulu are fairly dark settings where failing and fucking up completely are pretty in-genre
Paper: Yeah ‘cos in Call of Cthulu there’s a lot of “aw you fucked up, now you’re insane” kind of thing isn’t there
Pencil: Yeah you take sanity damage fairly easily and if you run out of it you are insane and thus out of the game. You’re also quite physically weedy because everything else is giant Lovecraftian monsters
Paper: Well yeah
Paper: I feel like failure can be interesting? But you’ve got to do it right. Like, you can’t just be like “you didn’t hit it” or like “you didn’t find anything”
Pencil: Yeah that’s what I mean. Yeah failure in the sense of like, just, failure in the sense of just essentially a wall goes down like “nope you can’t do that anymore”
Paper: Hm. I just, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where that has been what failure meant apart from like “you failed to solve the puzzle because you destroyed it” kind of stuff
Paper: ‘Cos thing is, as a DM you should want your players to win, so you should give them second chances even if you make those chances harder
Pencil: ‘Cos yeah there’s always the problem that like, if you fail at the wrong time that’s sort of the campaign over. Like, yeah, it’s been a bit of a problem with my Black Fen one which is a mystery, like, investigation campaign I’m running where, there have been a few times where it’s been like “ok I have to put something else in ‘cos if you don’t get this clue then, you know, you’re kind of just stuck wandering around doing nothing in particular”
Paper: I’m very sorry that my feral child character is not a better PI
Pencil: It’s ok. Like, it is possibly relevant that two of the investigators are a bugbear in a hat and a child who lives in the woods
Paper: And we’re best friends!
Pencil: And they’re friendship is undeniable but their skill as detectives is slightly more
Paper: To be fair you’d think that fantasy OFSTED – as in one of the characters is from fantasy OFSTED – would be better at finding problems in this school
Pencil: Yeah. The other two characters are another small child and a drunken – a drunken teenager
Paper: For listeners not in the UK, OFSTED is basically the people who investigate schools and review them for the government. Ok so we have one more question, which has come to us from the email, from Nil, who says “Hello mods! I’d like to ask if either of you has any advice for playing gender nonconforming characters in RPGs. I want to play one but I don’t want it to become the central focus of their character” and, this is a genuinely good question, and I feel like we are very qualified to answer it
Pencil: No-one involved in the production of this podcast is cis
Paper: But yeah I think…would you make a big deal out of it if you had a male character wearing trousers, would you be like “by the way, I’m wearing a suit”? If not don’t do that if they’re wearing, if it’s like a man in a dress, just be like “well I’m gonna hitch up my skirts and I’m gonna cross the stream and do the thing
Pencil: Yeah I think generally if you mention their gender presentation and gender identity as much as you would mention a cisgendered character’s gender presentation and gender identity, is probably a good starting point if you don’t want to be…dadada…if this is like your first attempt at playing a non-gender-conforming character
Paper: Especially because a lot of DMs like to introduce characters with a physical description like “you enter the bar and you see an orc in some leather armour” and stuff like that, you can just be like “you see an orc in some leather armour, you see a man in a dress, you see a dwarf wearing this” it’s just…it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, a big deal.
Paper: But I mean just, on a wider thing like, I love how like RPGs and the tabletop community is so much more inclusive than even just when I started in like 2014. Like, I mean the 5th ed handbook explicitly says “here’s some examples of some trans and nonbinary canon characters, so go for your life”
Pencil: Yeah I know Pathfinder has introduced at least like, one canonically trans sort of, sample character, so yeah we were
Paper: And obviously gender non-conforming doesn’t necessarily mean trans but I think it all comes under an umbrella of “not what the cis expect”
Pencil: Yeah we were, to take the (nonsense sounds). Sorry, my words stopped. Yes, going from the other approach we were before the, before doing the podcast we were looking at Avalanche Press’s games which are books which are just a variety of skimpy clad women on the covers which don’t show up in the books
Paper: Yeah we were looking at the Aztec one specifically which, I don’t think highly visible underboob is historically accurate? Like, the Aztecs are not my area but I’m pretty sure that underboob was not their thing
Pencil: Yeah so I think in conclusion don’t make a big deal about it and don’t have weird, vaguely racist underboob ladies and you’re probably good?
Paper: I mean, you can have underboob ladies just don’t call them historically accurate
Pencil: I guess
Paper: Nick says Frodo Underboob, like Underhill
Pencil: Ah. Nick does say things like that. But yes
Paper: I feel like we should try to say a bit more about this question because it’s quite short. Quite a short answer
Pencil: It is short but like also I’m not sure how much more there is to say about it like…
Paper: We could just bring in a fourth question
Pencil: We could. What questions do we have coming up?
Paper: giggles So, we have one last question that we have got from tumblr which is anonymous, who says “Is a 380 word backstory too long?” So I think that’s about a page in word, depending on your font size? I think that’s just coming in prepared
Pencil: Like, I think it depends who your GM is and who the rest of the players are. And it probably also depends on, like, what the backstory is. Like if you’ve just painstakingly written every single thing your character did that morning it might be a bit excessive but like, yeah I think it depends a lot. Is your character…do the rest of your player group have 380 word backstories or is it just you?
Paper: But also I think it is ok if it’s just one person, like there’s a game I’m running at the moment where there’s three kind of, the normal length backstories and one person has basically written a prologue
Pencil: Ok yeah that’s fair
Paper: But I mean some people just have a lot of thoughts about their character and the world and things and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that it’s just a question of running it past your DM first
Pencil: Ok I think, to rephrase my answer, if your GM says “hey could you give me the cliffnotes for this”, you’ve possibly written too long a backstory, otherwise you’re fine
Paper: Yeah, like, immerse yourself in the world and make your character fit in the world, whether that’s through your backstory or just through gameplay. Either way it just makes for a better experience for everyone really. So that’s about everything for today. If you’ve got a question to can send it to us on the probably bad RPG ideas tumblr and just say that it is for the podcast, or email us at email@example.com. I want to thank Nick Blake for editing and music, and if you want to support us you can head to patreon.com/probablybadrpgideas where you can donate at 1, 5, 10, or 20 pound a month increments and get access to our Discord server and bonus episodes. Or if you want to do a one-time donation you can go to ko-fi.com/probablybadrpgidea, and
Both: Remember to have a probably bad day
This podcast is supported by listeners on Patreon. Thanks to Nicholas, Lindsey, Coral, and Gareth for their donations