#OnRampJam Takeaways

I’ve read all 20 submissions to the #onrampjam. Everything submitted was interesting, and the spread of ideas about what roleplaying is is wild. I strongly encourage you to read the submissions when you get a chance.

These are my big-picture takeaways after reading everything. Still working on getting Club folks to put their $0.02 in as well.

What even is a character? Lots of takes on what a character “is.” In some cases it’s capability-oriented (fighter, burglar), a very conventional approach. In others, it’s more about their narrative role in a specific setup: an office boss or gossip, in one case the complete cast of commedia dell’arte roles. Some games went to some effort to get into the head of the characters, build empathy with their goals, and other identity authorship tricks. Lots of ways to get those hooks in: answer questions, pick lists, drawings, nouns/verbs/adjectives, etc.

Chewy, provocative setup/situation: provoking reactions is easier than asking them to be proactive. Obstacles to overcome, pressing matters they must address.

If you’re offering a specific fantastical setup, nail down one distinctive thing about it. Some of the games were deep into sci-fi/fantasy/nerd territory, but in every case there was a clear thing you could hang the whole 10-30 minutes on.

Another approach taken by a couple submissions was to provide a toolbox-style simple resolution system, with ideas about how to apply it to a variety of settings and situations. I feel like what these submissions are saying is important is the conventional player/facilitator roles, in which the facilitator (GM/DM) does the bulk of the heavy creative lifting and the player stays focused on their own experience and agency. That’s legit!

(Low stress/high consequence) exploration is fun, both physical and situational. A clear invitation to explore the fiction helps build up the setting and situation among the participants.

Lots of ways to provide setting/situation. The appeal of classic fantasy tropes (violence, problem solving, puzzles). Or contemporary, relatable situations (interpersonal, “realistic”). Or scrub the serial number off a known, popular property – one of the oldest gaming traditions. Or create something completely weird so there are no easy tropes to fall back on, and they focus instead on what’s possible within your weird setup.

Uncertainty in resolution is fun (dice, cards, lots of ways to do this) and showed up in most of the submissions. Uncertainty that introduces twists or other nuances beyond succeed/fail might be helpful for facilitators while also making the process feel risky to the player. Lots of folks seem to like some version of the Forged in the Dark style: 1-3 is bad, 4-5 is good-but-complicated, 6 is a win. And being clear about (possible) consequences is a good comfort measure!

Several of the games required the players participate in creating the situation (“setup is play” is fun even when you’re not experienced). Pick-lists are a straightforward solution, and provided context for the kinds of inputs expected.

Give the player tools to take control of uncertain outcomes or mitigate risk: push toward particularly strong approaches, or build pools of dice up, that sort of thing. The games that did this, to me, pointed toward the game part of RPGs, you know? Like for them it’s not just about creative input, it’s about using the system.

For some of the submitters, the social interaction component is clearly the most important part. If the experience is made specifically for more than one person, they included reasons or alibis, and maybe mechanical benefits, for the players to interact. If you’re playing with many people, find ways to get them all to make creative contributions.

Clear play structure (turns, phases, pick list) is vital, especially if they’re playing toward a specific endgame. This includes the clarity of a traditional dungeon delve, especially if the facilitator is familiar and comfortable with them. A clear ending (but not necessarily a win/lose condition) lets the player know they’re done. Most of the submissions did a good job of nailing down the end state of the experience. This isn’t often thought about in mainstream Real Games™ is it? Maybe it should be.

There’s something to be said for strong visuals to share with beginners. Could be a nicely laid out sheet, a literal boardgame-style map, or other props. I’ve always considered, personally, a strong central visual to be valuable for players sitting at a table. Maybe this is also true for a demo! Be sure to check out the game that fits on a single business card.

Finally, debrief to talk about the bits you found interesting or fun. Some of the games came with this built in but it seems like a good idea (and probably inevitable, since you are introducing someone to a thing, one assumes you’d want to ask them about it afterward).

I’ll be digging into some of the games I found most interesting in the coming days!

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