It’s the holidays and for me it’s been work and the Christmas that won’t go away. I still have more Christmas today to slog through.
In the spirit of the season though I’ll go over my Christmas RPG swag. It was a lean year for table top fun. Other than a couple geek-inspired shirts there was nothing directly table top related. But I did receive one (well two technically) glorious gifts to improve my RPG experience and really take my games to the next level. What is this mythical and magical artefact you ask with bated breath, butt threatening to slide right off the seat edge you ride?
Well, two boxes of pens to be exact. But they’re good pens and for anyone who does any amount of regular writing a good pen makes the endeavor a much smoother process. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve sweared at pens for their inferior performance. And, each person is different. We all have different pen criteria. What makes or breaks a good pen may have absolutely no impact on another person’s attitude towards pens.
So what has this to do with RPGs? Well table top RPGs are still very much an analog medium. There is much more now possible with laptops, tablets, phones, and the lumbering desktop PC when it comes to “Pen & Paper” RPGs. But the people who use them exclusively are still very much pioneers, difficulties of living on the fringe. Battery life, no WiFi, bad software or no software. And while I feel there is a time where there will be a mass exodus in the hobby to the digital space, it’s not here yet.
So until then I am left with my notebooks, memo pads, dry/wet erase surfaces, and the archaic pen. Or really I should call it the classical pen, as it’s design and function has been unchanged for centuries. It’s worked well for me. I find working with paper and pen much more productive than working on a computer and that is for many reasons. But if I had to pick the one that sticks out in the forefront of my mind is noise. I don’t mean noise as in sound, though that is where the term originates. Noise is any outside interference that hampers communication. This is the same thing as what we call distractions. Anything that impairs us from focusing on the task at hand. Pointedly I have yet to play a tabletop RPG with someone using a digital device who used it only for the game. Invariably they always end up using it for something else during the session when it’s not their turn.
It’s for good reason. Even sitting here typing this post I’ve been constantly distracted either by an email notification, the music playing in the background, or something else. Writing this by hand in a notebook I’d already be finished and moved on to something else.
Another reason I like working with pens is I can make notes in an order and format that best makes sense to me. Writing down things also seems to very much aid memory. By writing down all my notes I have them organized in a fashion that makes the most sense to me, I’m more likely to remember where to look up a bit of information if I can’t outright remember the information. Perhaps best is the ability for me to insert directly any corrections, annotations and new notes during play for me to review after the game.
So if you haven’t used a line-ruled notebook since school pick up a pack (another plus of analog technology is cost) and some decent pens. Take some time, 20 minutes maybe, and sequester yourself off without access to a digital device and do some brainstorming, riffing. Go in with a topic and just write and sketch about it until time is up or you run out of ideas. If you run out of ideas don’t leave just yet. Read back through your notes to mine for inspiration. If you still don’t have anything flip to the next page and start riffing on something else, whatever you’re thinking about in the moment. If this is something you’ve never done before you may be surprised with the results.
I had a couple paragraphs of comment typed, hit a wrong button, and lost it all. Further support for your argument, I suppose. Had I written on paper, it would still be here. (You might not receive it for a couple weeks, but whatever.)
I’m curious what your standards are for a good pen. I prefer the Pilot G2 0.38 ultra fine or whatever they call that size. I can live with 0.5 models. The only drawback is the button gets pushed sometimes in my pockets, and I end up with ink stains on my jeans or my uniform. As a second choice, Pentel has a 0.4 gel pen that comes with a cap. The caps break too easily for my taste but they generally get the job done. If I am forced to use a different pen than one of those two, I find it frustrating. I’m happy to know I’m not the only one that cares about a good pen, even if you don’t agree on favorite models.
Regarding noise and distractions at the table, I rely on my laptop as a sort of DM screen. I keep all my notes on there, I use whatever digital tools I can (monster compendium, character sheets, maps), and I even have rulebooks open if PDF copies are available. (I only have PDFs of books I own in hardcopy, though I suppose that’s still a sort of moral concession to piracy.) I’ve found the digital tools incredibly useful.
But so do my players, and that leads to “I run my character sheet on my laptop.” Invariably that leads to a player interrupting combat or worse yet an RP session with raucous laughter. Then they have to show others the hilarious meme they found, or what someone posted on Facebook. Chalk it up to ADHD, bad people skills, or just plain rudeness. It’s unacceptable.
I can hear someone say, “Well if the players aren’t into it, maybe it’s the DM’s fault.” Maybe, but this is a collaborative effort. That means, whether through feedback to the DM on how to make things better or through player participation and manners at the gaming table, that individual has some responsibilities too.
Overall that group was a good experience, but it forced me to think of potential solutions for that problem if/when I get another group started in the future.
Ok, that was a long comment. I’ll quit trying to blog on your blog. Thanks for a fun read! 😀
The internet ate your post. As a long-time play-by-post role player I am a lifelong student of the anguish associated with that phenomenon.
I learned my current favorite pen by sheer happenstance. Whether through game sessions, work, or some other activity I ended up with an extra pen that was most definitely not mine. One day I needed a pen, it was there when another was dried up and that’s been that. I really enjoyed it and continued to write with it even though it was blue ink, I’m a formal black ink kind of guy, so I knew I was using something a cut above the rest in my experience.
For specifics I prefer a capped pen to ‘clickers’. The reasoning includes your aforementioned problem with them going rogue when unattended and I’ll click that button like crazy. The latter doesn’t really bother me but I’m sure it makes people want to strangle me on occasion. I’ve been known to pop the caps on and off pens as well in the same sort of fidget but it’s not nearly as annoying. My preferred pen right now is a Pilot Neo-Gel. It’s a .07, so thicker than the pens you seem to like but it has a relatively fine point and doesn’t bleed. More importantly the ink hasn’t skipped on me, even when I’ve drained the reservoir low. Nothing breaks a great flurry of ideas like a pen deciding to half ink every other letter. The ink also dries pretty quickly, which was always a problem I have with pens like Uniball. They have great, thick lines but they skip and at some point I’m going to drag my finger or another page across wet ink and make a smear. The Neo-Gel looks cheap, clear plastic housing and everything but it gets the job done for me so I’ll keep going back to them until I stumble across something better or my writing habits change.
Don’t get me wrong I absolutely will use a laptop at the table. I’ve done it both sides as a player and a GM/DM. My Pathfinder cleric has a stupid amount of spell options so the Find function on a PDF makes life so much easier. For running I occasionally use both handwritten and digital notes. I don’t run with a screen, personal preference, so that’s not an issue for me. I like having the PC there for reference, but prefer to do the in-session gear grinding and notes on paper.
A while back I talked about using static bad guys. Essentially making all attacks and defenses for the PCs active and all attacks and defenses for the bad guys passive. While it did take some getting used to for everyone involved I actively saw a dramatic increase in my player’s engagement at the table. They didn’t have as much time between die rolls and turns to wander off mentally.
Hopefully some of that was helpful.