In the inaugural episode of the RPGBOT.podcast, we discuss the subject matter of the podcast, and we introduce our cast: Randall James of AmateurJack.com, RPGBOT contributing author Random Powell, and Tyler “RPGBOT” Kamstra.
All right, welcome to the RPGBOT.podcast. I’m your untitled officiant Randall James. Here with me is Tyler Kamstra.
All right, we also have Random.
Awesome. Awesome. Alright, so what is this? This is episode zero. We’re doing proper indexing.
Yes, arrays index at zero.
Fantastic. All right. Well, that’s I think that’s a good time to podcast is going to be a winner. So what are we doing here?
Well, we want to talk about tabletop RPGs. and stuff. We want to talk about mechanics, we want to talk about new content, we want to talk about telling good stories and having fun games. And, you know, we want to break stuff, we want to fix stuff, and we want to see what we can do with games. Okay, all right, that’s reasonable. Who are you? And why do people care about what you say about these things? Well, my name is Tyler campster. I’m the author of RPG vault dotnet. I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs for a little over 20 years now and running RPG bot for about seven. I mostly write about character optimization stuff, but I write about other cool mechanical stuff too. And sometimes I’m even write about things and understand how the world works.
Wait, okay, when you say you understand how the world rock works, like within RPGs are more.
Let’s say that I only understand how the world works within RPGs. Because let’s not make gross generalizations about my capabilities.
Okay, that’s fair, I think I think we can all agree to this, this is fine. Random, do you care about his opinions?
Frequently. I have known this guy for basically the entire time that I have been playing role playing games, which is also about 20 years. I have been a (incomprehensible) WotC-adjacent employee, although in magic rather than this. But that was part of the long history of researching, studying, playing, officiating, and to some extent creating games. I have gone through several systems, both many with Tyler and a couple besides. I also run a class as part of a summer camp where I help teach kids how to take the skills gained from role playing games. All those, you know, benefits that you can get from communication, as well as the entire sort of concepts of gamification and how that applies to real life. So I’ve spent a lot of time sort of studying kind of the meta behind mechanics, just because I do enjoy mechanics of things so much.
Nice, Awesome. Cool. And yeah, I’m Randall James. I enjoy tabletop gaming. I’m relative novice compared to these folks. I played just a little bit of Pathfinder 2e, I played a lot of fifth edition. I’ve been both a DM and played characters. I’ve done you know, some of the the published adventures. And generally, I think it’s just a neat system. And I really like it. I’m kind of excited, like for these folks who have been doing it a long time to hear about, like, you know, what were the olden days, like?
The olden days of 2005.
Oh, so much math. It was so much math.
That was a long time ago now.
Oh, God, we are old now, aren’t we?
There are people who will listen to this podcast who weren’t born then.
And it won’t even be inappropriate. So, Tyler, do you do you go by RPGBOT?
Only on the internet. My friends all call me Tyler. Which is great because it’s my name. Yeah, call me RPGBOT, call me Tyler. I could make a really old joke. “Don’t call me late for dinner,” But I’m not that old. I promise.
Actually. I feel like that’s a little fitting. That’s fine.
Meanwhile, you might find me as Harlequin in a few places. I don’t use social media all that much. But anywhere that you will find a place for me to play games. You will probably find me there as Harlequin based on a different tabletop game not so much role playing just a whole bunch of armies.
Yeah, and I guess towards that in the show notes will have links to all the places on social media where we actually want you to find us. Awesome. So I want to roll back. Before you told us who we who you were, Tyler, you told us some things that you cared about some things you were excited to talk about. I don’t remember what any of those things were at this point. So I kind of want to go take it from the top. What’s one thing you want to do here in this podcast.
I want to talk about mechanics. I want to talk about tabletop RPG mechanics, building characters, building games, what parts of games work well, what parts don’t, how we can break them, how we can fix them, how we can do things better. We’re going to talk about new content, you know, book releases, preview content, Unearthed Arcana, things like that. And sometimes it’s fun to go poke around in the guts of the system and figure out what you can do with it. You can draw a lot of great ideas from mechanics, you can explore parts of the game that people usually overlook, like, what are we going to do with lifestyle rules? What are we going to do with like overland travel? All these things that people usually gloss over. Because that’s it’s a lot of mechanics sometimes, and doesn’t look like a lot of fun. But there’s a lot of fun to be had there in places that people might not think to look, and I want to look for those things.
Yeah, I really love the idea of that actually, like talking about even the overland travel. Like that’s, you know, I feel like every game that I play, there’s that situation where it’s like, I’ve got to go from town A to town B. And at best the DM is gonna be like rule a d20. And if it’s high enough, you’re gonna encounter bandits. Other than that, you made it just fine. Yeah, versus there’s, there’s really kind of a whole part of the campaign that can actually happen just in that environment. So yeah, that’ll be exciting.
With, I mean, overland travel, in particular, one of the things that sometimes gets lost in these games, when people are looking at this just in terms of Oh, there’s so many rules, I need to remember, I need to make sure that, you know, we’re not missing any of these things is a lot of the times the overland travel in heavy air-quotes, in books and movies, is where you get low character development, which is what people actually engage in, in the story. You know, if you’re reading a book, like a fight scene, can certainly be well-described, and it can certainly be interesting, but that’s not where the plot is. Right? And so, if you have this overland travel, and you say, “Okay, great”, you know, sure, I’m gonna make you roll for a random encounter. And I’m also going to designate, here’s three minutes. For these three minutes, we’re not going to do anything, apart from roleplay. And then if you know, if that prompts people to talk more, and then you go past that, great, that’s lovely, and that’s telling the story. But at least, you know, making sure that there is that opportunity for people to do that, rather than just is this is another mechanic, that’s the sort of thing that I’m really interested in exploring. It’s like he was saying, how do we use these mechanics to further the story?
Okay, I’m taking frantic mental notes, because that’s a really good idea.
Yeah, I kind of want to double down on that thought. Like, I think maybe that’s the thing that’s most exciting to me is like, okay, there are a ton of mechanics available to us. And I think any of the systems that we’ll talk about, but ultimately exactly as Random said, right, how, how do we use it to make our table more fun? How to use it to make the game more fun? To engage players? In a way that, you know, let’s face it, we don’t encourage a table full of– full of murder hobos running from fight to fight. What are we going to do about it? Also, hey–
hey, there’s nothing wrong with a table of murder hobos running from fight to fight if that’s the game you’re here for. You know, don’t yuck anybody’s yum. If someone wants to play that game, if you want to crawl through a dungeon and just kill some monsters and get treasure, that’s cool. Let’s talk about how traps work and stuff. But if you know lot of people are also in the game for storytelling and character development. Those things are awesome. And yeah, looking for room to breathe there. Opportunities to stick role playing in like, like how do you do roleplay during combat and stuff like that? There’s a lot of things that we can explore and I’m looking forward to talking about those things with you guys.
Awesome. Awesome. I something else you said that was interesting me a second ago you’re talking about like, I think broken pieces of the game, broken rules. What do you mean? I thought the ruleset was perfect.
Oh, no rule sets perfect. No rule set is perfect. I have read… Oh God, I don’t like that number. I’ve read a lot of rule sets. I’ve read a lot of tabletop RPGs. And I have yet to find one that is mechanically perfect but also has rules.
RPGBOT but that was sarcasm.
(Laughing) Oh, I know. Yeah, there are parts of any given system which eventually you’ll look at and be like, hey, that doesn’t work. How you might expect. Like one of my favorites to always pick on is fifth edition’s Mounted Combat rules, like there are only two paragraphs but boy… Those are some rough two paragraphs. So sometimes you can look at things and you can find things. You can find places where they break down, you can find ways that you can use the rules maybe how they weren’t intended in a way that does funny things in the game. It’s like finding a weird glitch in a video game where you walk outside the level and things get goofy. Sometimes you can do that in tabletops, too, but sometimes all it takes is just knowing that there’s issues there. You change a couple of words, and your game works better.
Nice. And so so what are what are we going to do? Are we just going to heckle the rules and kind of leave it at that?
Nah, no, no. I love these games as much as anyone else does. And I don’t want to turn this into just Hey, let’s pick on the rules. Sometimes it’s fun to lean on something until it breaks. But then it’s really fun to put it back together in a way that’s maybe better. Some rules are perfectly fine how they are and just be like, yeah, hey, just don’t do that one thing and then everything will work fine. But sometimes just understanding where the problems are, can give you a lot of good ideas about how to use the rules better, or how to improve them so that they work better for your group.
Nice, nice. I guess, they know to keep going through your list. You talked a little bit about character optimization. You know, let’s say I’m a new player to the game, what is “character optimization”? What are we doing there?
Okay, so… So say you’re building your character, and you want to build a barbarian. And you have the choice between being really, really strong and really, really smart, and you can only have one of those choices. You’re a barbarian, so you pick something really, really strong. Now that that is the basics of character optimization. It’s just looking at two options, figuring out what works better for what you want to do with your character. Sometimes it’s picking what just makes them objectively stronger. And that gets really complicated when building the characters like 20, 30 different decisions. So I spend a lot of time writing about character optimization and talking about it. And that’s kind of what I’m known for.
I’m going to take a sidebar here. For optimization… And and while that is very definitely a big focus of RPGBOT, there’s also a real choice point for even before that, do I need to optimize this particular thing. You know, if you’ve been through the RPG bot website, you will see options listed in these different colors that explain how strong they are. But just because an option doesn’t rank particularly well, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad option for your character, if the story that you’re trying to tell will be made better by choosing that choice. And, while optimization, definitely a focus, and while it’s something that I am a enormous fan of, optimizing just for the purpose of having a strong character can honestly feel very unsatisfying. When you have a character, particularly let’s say, you are a person who is very into optimizing at a table full of people who aren’t, if you walk out as a coffeelock, at a table full of people who have never played before, you’re gonna make everyone else have a less-good time because they are less meaningful in the actual mechanical aspects. So, absolutely, optimization is a great thing. But make sure that you slot it into your game correctly.
You say that. I, so I ran a game recently with a character and I think the the player for the character at some point is going to listen to this, I’ll get a text message about it. But he, he was running a ranger, which never missed, you know, hit four times a turn strong against everything that we’re finding in the campaign, like his favorite enemy was the you know, the enemies that we would be fighting the entire time. And the, the character development was that the character didn’t like to talk a lot and hated everything. So as far as, like, role playing, or RPing he’s like… Let’s just get to the next fight. And then yeah, exactly. Like you say, like, you have conversations with the players, where everybody’s like, half joking, half not like, I did nothing, I’m sure but he carried the team. So yeah, I think that’s a that’s a great point towards character optimization. But that being said, you know, especially if you’ve got a group who is into it, or if you know, you know, you have a, you’re walking into a campaign that’s gonna be fairly challenging. You know, if you haven’t if you’re listening this but you haven’t looked at the RPGBOT.net site. There’s a lot of fascinating things and you can really dive in. You can learn more about what the options are like the tree so to speak, and what you might build out for your character, you can look forward so when you know you’re hitting the next level, and it’s like, oh, how am I going to make a choice, you know, between A and B or you know, what different anybody going to take something like this. It’s a great resource to go, dive in, learn a little bit. And then I think random kind of hits it on the head. Think about what your character, you know, who do you want your character to be? How’s it gonna participate in the role playing, and let that be part of the choice. But when it’s, you know, when you’re just picking between two flavors of apples, you might as well make the most-informed choice. And for that, definitely take a look at RPGBOT.net. Yeah. So another interesting thing you said you talked about, as new material comes out, we’re going to talk about this. I thought the rules were final, I thought we had everything we were going to get.
Well, some RPGs do that: you get one book, and that’s it. But throughout the history of d&d, Pathfinder, fantasy… everything Fantasy Flight has published, you’ll always get supplements, you’ll get new adventures, you get new options. And it’s always fun to read through those and see what goodies you get in the new book. Something that people have been asking me to do for the site for literally years is reading… reading and discussing the preview content from wizards and from paizo. So unearthed Arcana articles play test documents from from Paizo. I really want to get into those. And I think going through those with the three of us is going to be a lot of fun. Read through them, see what’s in there. You know, see what works, see what doesn’t and then maybe if we’re smart about it, we’ll send some good feedback back to the designers and maybe they’ll do something with it.
Nice, nice. So not to tease anything, but maybe even a little live playtesting is that…
Ooh, that would be a lot of fun. We should do that.
Okay, I think that seems like a good idea, too.
I will just point out that this sort of play test content is often the stuff that is most especially not super well thought out. And…
It seems like it’s gonna be right up our ally.
If we loop back around to that “lean on it until it breaks.” I think that… a little bit of a breeze is going to be all we need for some of the stuff I’ve played with some of this Unearthed Arcana content. And it is… unpolished.
It’s like, getting into a car and trying to turn the key and it won’t even crank.
At least we won’t die in the middle of the road.
No, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s all… everything that I have looked at and touched in Unearthed Arcana has all been… well written to get their idea across. And, yeah, I will say that the all of the design has been interesting and thematic. And there are times when they are, are trying to do things that just don’t really have a good way to make them happen. Or that you know, oh, yes, all of these seem good in context. And then you think about it and go, Okay, wait, I get that we’re trying to make to you know, use the Unearthed Arcana skill feeds for example, like, I get the we’re, we’re gonna make a feat for each of these skills where you get expertise and some neat bonus. And then there are some of them that are just objectively character defining. And in terms of how good they are. I played a paladin with the intimidate feat and just oh yeah, I’m just gonna drop an attack to make that guy afraid of me. How often Can you do that? Yes.
Wait wait, Okay, so for folks who aren’t familiar with that, describe that a little more detail.
Absolutely. So… if you have gone through and looked at the RPGBOT list of class handbooks, I have written two of the subclass handbooks, the Armorer and the Hexblade and those have been based on either characters that I played or characters that I knew and what you may well end up seeing at some point soon is one for the Oath of Conquest Paladin. The character who I have put the most time into on any one campaign actually had this Unearthed Arcana feat that I looked at and I said okay, well so this feat says that, as one of the three bullet points, I can drop one of my attacks for a round to perform an Intimidate check against somebody and you know, there’s rules but short answer is they end up afraid of me. And as a conquest paladin is something is afraid of you and close to you, it can’t move. And if because it has a speed of zero, you knock it prone, it has zero movement so it can’t stand back up. And so it just lays there on the ground, 10 feet away from you, dying… forever. Like these sorts of little edge cases are exactly the one of the things that I am super excited to explore with Tyler and you on this podcast, because these are the things where, you know, they thought, alright, let’s make this feat so that it fits in with all these other feats and then I just like, okay, but this puzzle piece in this puzzle piece and this is goofy.
And now everybody’s standing in a circle poking, poking good Goblin wood sticks just…
Hey, Hey, buddy, you gonns get up? You still afraid? Nice, nice, nice. Awesome. Well, hey, I think I’m happy I joined! I I’m looking forward to this.
Well, we’re happy to have you.
As I of you. Cool. So what are we going to talk about next time?
Well, Random actually had some really exciting ideas about fifth edition’s investigate rules, and I really want to explore those next time.
Okay, cool. Is this gonna be one of those mechanics conversations about one of those, like, maybe this is a little broken conversations.
Not so much broken. I mean, I, if you have read the artificer subclass that I posted, Investigate is not super well fleshed out as to why you might use it over Perception. But that that first bullet point that you can use context clues, essentially, to discern something hidden is a way that you can really lean into how a scout type character might care about it.
Nice. Okay, good. Good. Leav ’em wanting more. I like that. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you everybody for your time. Tyler, do you want to tell folks how they can find you?
Yeah, you can find me online at RPGBOT.net you can find me on Twitter at R-P-G-B-O-T-D-OT-N-E-T because RPGBOT was already taken. facebook.com slash R-P-G-D-O-T-N-E-T… Sorry, I spelt that wrong. R-P-G-B-O-T-D-O-T-N-E-T and then patreon.com slash RPGBOT.
Nice, nice. And again, yeah, we’ll link this in the show notes. So you’ll be able to find it that way too. Random. Do you want to tell anybody anything?
I don’t really participate in social media very much. But if you do end up finding me on Steam, you will just find me as Zd Harlequin. And just really the place that I am active on media is posting these sorts of articles to RPGBOT. So that’s mostly where you’ll find me and my work.
Randall 22:52 Nice Nice. Alright, awesome. And you’ll find me at AmateurJack.com. Facebook, amateur jack, Instagram and Twitter @ jack amateur. Yeah, great session. Thanks, folks.