Category Archives: Improve Your Game

Mental Health in Roleplaying Games

Because of my personal and professional experience I know quite a lot about mental health issues. As you may well know I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder myself and since I work in a psychosomatic medicine department , I learned a lot about all kinds of psychological and psychosomatic disorders over the years. What sometimes bothers me, is how roleplaying games use mental health issues.

There are a lot of games which have rules for psychic disorders. The most prominent example is probably Call of Cthulhu. In most of these games your character gets a random disorder when he or she has lost a certain amount of mental health points. Most games don’t even bother to distinguish between different causes. Being confronted by unspeakable horrors from beyond has the same effect as seeing a loved one die or being close to death yourself. In one case my character in a Palladium Fantasy game was on the brink of death and got traumatized by that. What was the result? He suddenly had a phobia against fey creatures – no kidding!

This of course doesn’t make any sense. It might have, if the almost mortal wound had been caused by fey, but it was because of drowning. One other common mistake is that neuroses and psychoses are randomly thrown together – which doesn’t make any sense. Playing out a psychological disorder might be a very interesting and intense roleplaying experience. But in most games it’s handled so badly that it just becomes an excuse to play “crazy”.

I don’t expect total realism. But I would prefer it if game designers took these matters more seriously. Suffering from mental health issues is no laughing matter. And while some roleplayers can have lengthy discussions about how realisticly guns are simulated by roleplaying games, almost noone bats an eye when it comes to unrealistic “insanity” rules.

I have to admit I haven’t had the time yet to do some more research on the matter. I am sure there are a couple of games who treat the subject with respect. I faintly remember that the Trail of Cthulhu rules did a slightly better job when it came to insanity and mental stability than most games. But I have to double-check.

What is your stance on the matter? Are you bothered by the portrayal of mental health issues in RPGs, too, or do you just not mind? Do you know a couple of laudable examples you want to share? Feel free to post your thoughts below!

Planning ahead

For quite a long time I started new campaign on a whim with an extremely short prep period. This works out well enough if you’re at the top of your game, creative, able to think on your toes. But if you are stressed from work and other things, perhaps even feeling a bit under the weather, this just doesn’t work out anymore. My friend Roberto has a different approach to GMing. He usually plans his campaigns way ahead. I think he’s already planning the campaign he wants to run in 2015. I don’t think I’ll ever plan ahead that early, but I’ve decided to change the way I prepare for my games.

At the moment I am running two games: a mini-campaign freely based on the XCOM series of computer games and a campaign based on the Fallout 1 computer game. Both games use Fudge rules, for the Fallout one I even wrote a pretty extensive conversion document. The XCOM game will probably be over two weeks time, so I am already planning for the game that will follow.

My players have asked me to run Shadowrun, so I started reading 5th Edition. Alas reading 5th Edition felt like gnawing off my own foot, so I decided to look for alternatives. At first I thought just tossing the Shadowrun rules would be best, but in the end I settled on Shadowrun 4th Edition. For some reason I find the game much more approachable. I’ll still think the same after I’ve finished reading the book.

But I will not stop there. As soon as we start playing Shadowrun I’ll think about what I could prepare next. Currently I am very interested in the Hero System. I picked up the current Bundle of Holding, and already started leafing through the various PDFs. I always wanted to run a superhero game, and Champions Complete may be the perfect game for this. If the Hero System turns out too much of a hassle after all, I still have a couple of alternatives up my sleeves. BASH Ultimate Edition looks like a more rules-lite approach to super hero gaming for example.

Do you usually plan way ahead for your games? Do you have several projects brewing at the same time, or do you prefer to focus on only one game at a time? Please share your thoughts below.

Same game, new tools!

Tumbs upAbout two years and a half ago (can’t believe I’ve been blogging here for that long) I wrote a post about the then new game I was playing, Mutants & Masterminds, and I wrote about the tools I was using then for the campaign. They included an Excel sheet for character creation, a campaign Facebook group, so on and so forth. Here is the link for the post. As time has gone by I have only expanded the electronic tools I’m using…

I’m also gone FULL digital. I run all my games from my computer. This is facilitated that my current campaign is a Pathfinder RPG game and there are some excellent resources that allow me to run the game from my computer with minimal book look up, including first and foremost the Pathfinder Reference Document by Paizo and the Pathfinder SRD (which also has SRD for Swords & Wizardry, Heroes of the Modern Path, i.e. a modern version of Pathfinder, and d20 Hero SRD which is the SRD for Mutants & Masterminds).

I’ve developed my own tools to use in my games, Excel sheets for tracking experience points, Power Point presentations to share information, and I’ve embraced PDFs. If available I’ll get PDF copies of the games I’m running. The price of some PDFs can still be a stumbling block. Paizo has very reasonably prices PDFs of their core Pathfinder books, most are $10.00. Pinnacle has their Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition, both in PDF and print, available for $9.99, that’s a price you can’t beat for a full game. Green Ronin Mutants & Masterminds / DC adventures PDFs are double the price of the other books, but I love their system so much I’ll get them anyway. And I usually get physical books as well and Green Ronin has some nice pre-order prices where you get the PDF at a discounted price.

facebook-logoAs I worked on the Pathfinder swashbuckling game I developed a Google Sites page for the game, and did the same for a very short zombie game (which I posted about here and here). However more and more I am using Facebook for my campaigns. I realize the social media giant has lost a lot of love out there, but the fact is ALL my players are there and use it regularly, so it’s become the most convenient way to share information. The files options in Facebook groups, the ability to create them privately, and the ease of sharing campaign images via the pictures and picture albums, have replaced my Google sites.  I currently have four campaign groups, one for my current fantasy game, another for my past supers game and for the zombie game, and another for the next game, our sci-fi campaign.

Google-logo1 (1)I have not ended my love for Google mind you! I still use Google Drive to share some documents and collaborate with my players and friends, most notably the Pathfinder campaign experience points. I add each session’s award to a Google Docs spreadsheet and the PC’s check it to see when they level up. They are not even writing down their XP anymore.

youtube-logo2How to handle music in my games has been an ongoing battle. I went from no music, to carrying around a CD case with all the soundtracks I used for my games, to creating playlists in my iPod. What I’ve begun to do recently is create playlists on YouTube. There are a LOT of videos for game and movie soundtracks and I just pull them in appropriate playlists and play at my games. Or try, I forge oftentimes, but that’s my new thing. For example here are the playlists for my current Pathfinder swashbuckling game, and for my upcoming Wanderers of the Outlands sci-fi game.

WCCOne last thing… For the Wanderers of the Outlands campaign we’ll be using Savage Worlds and I intend to use Journeyman Games’ Wild Card Creator, since I backed the Kickstarter.

So that’s the state of technology in my game. I wonder; what tools are my fellow gamers and readers of this blog using? Anything you’d like to share? I’m always looking for new tools!

Thanks for reading…