Monday, August 31, 2015

RPGaDay Bonus: Zak S's questions

Zak S (from over at the Playing D&D with Porn Stars) has his own RPGaDay questions, which were pretty interesting, and so here's my answers:

1. Worst game you ever played

"Played"?  Not just owned, or ran?  I mean for "owned" I could go with the Whispering Vault.  For "ran" I could say. um...Rifts?  Played?  I haven't played in that many RPG's, truth be told.  I'm more a GM.  And I've liked most of them.  Let's say TORG.

2. Interesting rule embedded within otherwise baleful game

While I'm not the biggest fan of hit location charts, if you want one the clear-plastic-overlay-on-top-of-body-silhouette from Millenium's End is a lot of fun, if just for the suspense of it.

3. Game you never played but you knew it sucked just looking at it


4. Game you most wish didn't suck

Rifts.  I'm pretty excited that Savage Worlds got a hold of the license, although it might count as a sign of the apocalypse.

5. Game about which you have the most mixed feelings


6. Old game most in need of an upgrade

Top Secret

7. Game you can run with the least prep

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

8. Game with awful art (and who you wish you could hire to fix that)

The Ultimate Hero, and Adam Warren

9. Best houserule you've seen in action and now use in your own games.

See the original RPGaDay entry

10. Game you've most changed your thoughts/feelings about

Marvel RPG Saga Edition.  When I first ran the game it was the first non-Champions superhero RPG I had used, and its abstract, not-point-buy mechanics seemed alien to me.  Now, it seems really ahead of its time.

11.  Game you'd use to run just about any setting if you had to

I'm not a huge fan of generic systems.  Let's say FATE, which I've only used a couple of times, but seems to be pretty flexible.

12. Game that haunts you and you're not sure why

Being "not sure why" is the part that makes this question hard to answer, because I have a good bit of self-awareness (at least when it comes to this sort of thing) and know why many games haunt me.  I mean, the old FASA Star Trek RPG haunts me, but that's because it was the first game I played with adults, and with the first girl who kissed me.

13. Game that would probably be most fun to play a bee in

Over the Edge

14. Best Star Wars game?

West End Games' Second Edition

15. Game that's good in theory but you're kind of on the fence about it to be honest

Most recently that would be the Cypher System rulebook.  I've seen some neat things done with it at Cross Planes, and will admit I haven't finished it yet, but I can't shake the notion that it might be the answer to a question I'm not asking.

RPGaDay 31: Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing

Darn it, I made this mistake of checking my blog feed and seeing people put down "all the friends I made in gaming," which is a good answer but then I'd just be ripping other people's creativity off.

Here's what I was actually thinking of putting down, mostly because I work with a lot of neuro-atypical people.

"How Dungeons & Dragons Saved My Autistic Son"

RPGaDay 30: Favorite RPG playing celebrity

Hey, I'm a day late on this one because I really don't have one.  Seriously, I need a celebrity that plays RPG's who is not a celebrity because of playing RPG's?

Who does that leave me?  Vin Diesel?  Okay, we'll go with Vin Diesel, because I am sure not going to pick "The Jar Jar Binks of Star Trek."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Taking Champions out for a spin

So, after Adam's post about the epic-length Champions game in which he played as a child, I got pretty sentimental about Champions, Fourth Edition (aka the Big Blue Book).  Rather than bring in my entire, huge group of players, I decided to start small.  So, I made PC's for both kids, Bubblegum (Champions edition) for the daughter, a guy named "Kroxigor" for the son.  For those who follow these things, Bubblegum is a low-level martial artist with Entangle and Flash, Kroxigor is a straight up light brick at 250 pts.

First, Bubblegum encounters Pulsar attacking the police.  She does a good job switching between her gum powers and her martial arts.

Then, Bubblegum finds Kroxigor fighting Bluejay, who is attempting to recapture him and return him to his creators.  They make pretty quick work of her.

Then, back at the defunct Ultimate Posse headquarters, the pair hear that GRAB is robbing a bank.  Three villains is a lot for them to handle, and they'll have to coordinate their actions to beat them.  Sadly they don't, and both the heroes are knocked out and GRAB makes their getaway...

The group is mixed on it. I could tell they didn't like the weird OCV/DCV math, and the more rigid rules.  They also hated losing, but that happens in comic books....

RPGaDay 29: Favorite RPG website/blog

I don't play favorites with my friends, but three bloggers who consistently create content that I pick out of my massive feedly list are Barking Alien, Tower of Zenopus, and Cross Planes.

In honor of the fact that he and I have a ridiculously similar taste in RPG's (except for my heightened tolerance of fantasy) I present the following photo for Adam.

Friday, August 28, 2015

RPGaDay 28: Favorite Game You Are No Longer Playing

So, before I answered this question I read Adam's post on the subject on his blog Barking Alien.

Possible photo of the author.

So his point, for those who don't have time to read it, is that you should be playing your favorite game.  And to the surprise of few, I agree with him.  I don't have the snark factor he does, and honestly I get how GM's compromise with their players about what game to run for the simple fact that the GM wants to game with them.  And yes, good friends will entertain the notion that a GM might like a game because it is really good, or at the least (and I learned this a long time ago) a game the GM loves he or she will run very well, and that makes it good for everyone.

What's ironic is that I've been talking to my kids about one of my favorite games to see if they might be interested in taking it out for a sentimental test drive.  We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

RPGaDay 27: Favorite idea for merging two games into one

First, let me just give credit to the guy who came up with the idea of merging Star Wars and Steampunk.

But for me, I think my favorite idea was to merge Mekton (giant anime robots) and Dune, a concept I floated back in my college days.  Somewhere in my long-term memory I have the concepts for giant robots for the Bene Gesserit, Houses Harkonnen and Atreides, the Sardukar, and the Freemen (who have both the small, still-suit robot frames and the giant kick-ass sandworms).

Why hasn't someone done the manga/anime version of Dune yet?  You'd think the way Herbert's kids have prostituted out their literary inheritance they would have done this already.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RPGaDay 26: Favorite inspiration for your game

In 2086, two peaceful aliens journey to Earth seeking our help. In return, they gave us the plans for our first hyperdrive, allowing mankind to open the doors to the stars. We have assembled a team of unique individuals to protect Earth and our allies. Courageous pioneers committed to the highest ideals of justice and dedicated to preserving law and order across the new frontier. These are the adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. 

My sister and I loved the animated series Galaxy Rangers so much my sister actually named her son after one of the characters.  The series, for those who have the misfortune of being unfamiliar with it, is a combination Space Opera/Superhero/Western featuring four main characters (Niko, Zachary, "Doc," and Shane, from left to right, above) who each possessed superhuman abilities (or at least gadgets, in the case of Doc) and used them to zip around the new space frontier solving mysteries, catching criminals, and battling the "Crown Empire."  What set the series apart from similar toy-pushing fare is that the characters were well developed, had relatively elaborate backstories, and developed as the series progressed.

Because of the large number of episodes, their quality, and the cross-genre setting, I have been able to shamelessly rip off plot lines for sci-fi, superhero, and even fantasy adventures.  The show borrowed so heavily from Star Wars at times (an evil empire with armored goons, an Abbott-and-Costello comedic duo, a gazillion aliens) that most Star Wars campaigns I have run have had at least a couple of Galaxy Ranger-inspired stories in it.

The real treat is that Zachary Foxx is voiced by Jerry Orbach, so now when I watch Law and Order, I constantly hope Lenny will tap his badge and then blast someone with his cyborg arm.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RPGaDay 25: Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

It seems like an old one, but it has been around since 1992, namely the first edition of Over the Edge.  In OtE, you build a character not through stats or skills but by identifying traits, like "firefighter" or "merman from Lemuria."  Abilities, skills, etc. are all derived from extrapolation from those traits.

Aspects from FATE, Distinctions from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and so many other narrativist, low-crunch games took this concept and ran with it.  Editor's Note: one could make an argument that the Ghostbusters RPG was really the first to use this mechanism, and that's fair, except there were still stats.

Anyways, the idea of open-ended descriptions of your PC having a rules effect rather than numerical values for stats or skill rankings opened things up a lot for me.  For one thing, it got me thinking a lot more about what motivates a PC or NPC, added depth to their personality, and encouraged me to stop number crunching.

Monday, August 24, 2015

RPGaDay 24: Favorite House Rule

Not really a house rule, but one that gets used in every gaming session (including now in the youth game being run by a former player, so it lives on).

At the end of each session, I hand out index cards and ask people to write down three things.

  1. The coolest thing that happened in the game.
  2. The coolest thing another player did in the game.
  3. If the game were a TV or movie, whom would you cast for the role of [major NPC of that session]
Having the players ask this question is a nice way to provide closure to each session and get some feedback as a GM about what the players enjoy in a game.  It is also fun to see how people's imagination work when it comes to visualizing the action.

The final thing it does is forces me to make sure I have at least one interesting NPC with which the players interact each session.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

RPGaDay 23: Perfect Game for You

Wow, what a question!  God knows I've spent a lifetime looking for it.

It's almost easier to ask what doesn't work, and look for the white space in between to figure out what does.  I mentioned earlier I don't like RPG's that are too tied to the RPG creator's world (like DragonAge or The Strange).  I don't like RPG's that have 37 pages of gun porn (like Edge of Empire).  I don't like games that take themselves too seriously as some transcendental experience, but also don't like games that are too break-the-fourth-wall goofy.  I don't want six page character sheets, but I want an RPG that gives me enough rules-wise to be able to distinguish one character for another in terms of game mechanics.  While I don't mind the odd bit of moral ambiguity, I want an RPG that gives the players the opportunity to choose to have their PC's act like heroes, because in the end I'm the grown-up version of the kid who liked to read comic books and mythology and Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators and who feels that there is enough brutality and ugliness in the world and I don't need to bring it into my imagination.  I believe, perhaps optimistically, in the fundamentally virtuous nature of humanity, and I want what I create to reflect that.  You may disagree, and I'm sure you can find your RPG to reflect that.

There are games I like, even love. But the perfect game, the game that I would want to bring with me on a desert island if it was the only came I could have?  I haven't found that one yet.  Might not even exist.  We'll see.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

RPGaDay 22: Perfect Gaming Environment

I had to really think about this one and what the questioner is really trying to say.  So here goes....

I like gaming at my own house.  It my previous house I had a fantastic finished basement, the creation of its previous owner who was a model train enthusiast.  In my current house I have a semi-finished basement: painted concrete block walls and a sealed cement floor, but it works.  My son was given a 4' by 8' table (long story) which now is the table upon which I game.  That's my gaming environment and I like it.

Actual room depicted.

Mostly I just like gaming at my own home first and foremost.  It means I can relax more, feel comfortable using the restroom, etc.  I don't care for gaming at gaming stores.  I know a lot of people do that out of necessity and as a way to game with relative strangers who they might not want to be in their house or because they don't have the space.  I don't have those problems: I have space and friends I trust.  Plus I get a kitchen and a gaming room that doesn't smell strongly of Unwashed Boy.  Being in my own space means that gamers can breastfeed their infants (I've had four incidences of that in my gaming career) and tuck their kids in the guest room when we go late.  Can't do that in a gaming store either.

Beyond just being in my own space I like a game session with plenty of good food, which I often make (someday I may do my "recipes for game night" cookbook), and the other amenities of good hospitality.  I'm a big fan of a lack of external distractions (another strike against FLGS's) and this might hack some people off, but I've been tempted to switch off the wi-fi at my house when we game.  I recently implemented a house rule that if you whip out your cell phone at the gaming table, you have to step away from the table until your done.  Sounds draconian, but honestly if you were participating in any other group activity dorking around on your cell phone would be rude.  Same here.  The group gets why, and there has been less, "um, it's my turn?  What's going on?"

Friday, August 21, 2015

RPGaDay 21: Favorite RPG Setting

The trick to this question is that I feel like I have to avoid the licensed products.  Star Wars is not an RPG setting, it's a movie series in which an RPG has been made.  A setting that was specifically developed for an RPG?  Two come to mind....

The rules might be a dog with fleas, but I have always found the setting for the Rifts RPG to be strangely compelling, mostly in their "everything but the kitchen sink" approach.  Actually, I would not be surprised if the Kitchen Sink OCC might be somewhere in the Rifter magazines.  The fact that Savage Worlds has somehow managed to pry the Rifts license from Kevin Siembieda's MDC grasp might just be a sign of the Apocalypse.

Close runner up:

Cyberpunk 2020.  Take a variety of cyberpunk movies, novels, etc. and frappe' them into a single world that has enough touch points to make fans happy, and you've got Mike Pondsmith's RPG setting.  I've read that Pondsmith really wanted an RPG that focused more on character and the pathos of the genre but instead saw the game tack towards the "caper" end of the spectrum (which then informed FASA's Shadowrun).  It is a classic case of design intent vs. gamer reality, but the world oozed early 90's cool.  I'll freely admit to still owning most of the books for this and have considered running a few sessions for fun, including the outdated technology "of the future."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Horror is Hard

So true confession time: I have completed most of my RPGaDay blog posts in advance and just schedule them to come out each day.

So when I wrote a few days ago for today's RPGaDay question

At some point I should write a blog post about me and horror RPG's and how they never, ever seem to work out.
Well that day can be today, the day that the first answer comes out.

So why is running a horror-themed RPG so difficult?  Let's break it down in no particular order.

1. I game with children.  Specifically my daughter, a sensitive pre-teen for whom I do not wish to create a collaborative story featuring gore or brutal violence for shock value.   While my RPG's do feature violence, and even death, it's the "Hollywood violence" of D&D or superhero stories or whatnot.

2. I tend to make jokes.  I won't even put this on my gaming group, but they are also guilty.  You know how this works.  Something happens and you make a pop culture reference or a Monty Python quote or something.  Honestly I end up laughing about something at practically every gaming session, like when someone summoned eight panthers in the last gaming session.  Both the group and I tend to have a fun, light-heartedness when we game, and trying to sustain the atmosphere would be a huge change from the norm.

3. I'm usually only engaging one sense: hearing.  The horror medium seems to have flourished the most in two categories: movies and novels.  Why is that?  Because both lend themselves to immersion, even over television.  In a darkened theater your senses are consumed by the visual and auditory elements of the movie.  In your home watching TV, the passing cat is as large as the zombie.  Books, well written ones at least, have a similar immersive quality because you are engaging the entirety of your thought process in the reading of the book.
But when you're gaming, at best you are hearing the narrative spoken aloud in a well-lit room full of other sensory stimuli, including the other players.  The "mind's eye" is crowded in the moment, and actually evoking dread or terror or shock (three elements of the horror concept) is more challenging in that situation.

4. PC's kill monsters, they don't run from them.  Yes, a few initial PC deaths will cure them of this belief, but until them deeply ingrained the subconsciousness of the RPG gamer is the notion that the ugly thing is supposed to be stabbed, set on fire, and then pilfered of its personal possessions.  Even if you do kill off a few PC's to show how outclassed they are, they will still see conquering the antagonist to be the goal, not just surviving it.  Add to that the fact that PC's tend to operate in groups, so they are rarely experiencing the isolation emblematic in horror tropes.

5. It's just a PC.  There's a classic Knights of the Dinner Table where Brian creates a computer game that erases files from your documents folder when you take damage as a way to instill horror in the player.  It's difficult to get the emotional buy-in from the player so that they genuinely care what happens (movies do this by creating a sympathetic character in the story, usually an innocent female or child, and then killing off the unsympathetic characters first to let you know what could happen to the one you like).  It's why I think my buddy Blacksteel is right when he suggests that level draining monsters are the scariest thing in gaming, but I think it is not because they are affecting the PC per se but because the monster is directly affecting the player because it is stealing the time and effort the player put into building up the character.

"On second thought, I'll just toss a grenade down there first."

6. Self-determination and player agency.  You know the old joke about the person screaming at the movie screen telling the character not to open that door?  The terror in the moment is the helplessness the viewer experiences in watching the movie. But hey, guess what?  In an RPG you don't have to!  Yes, in the movie you might go down into the basement with the baseball bat and the stub of a candle but in an RPG you could drive to Wal-Mart and buy a gun and a high-powered halogen flashlight, not to mention a gas can you can fill up on the way home, dump all over the house, and light it on fire.  Not only does player agency often work against creating the terrifying situation, but players will be pissed when you take it away.  So the onus is on the GM to create situations where the PC's are put into compromising, vulnerable situations without seeming too heavy-handed.

So there are six reasons off the top of my head why horror games don't work, at least for me.  I'm sure there are very talented GM's out there who make it work, and God bless you for that.  But for my trouble I would just stick to what works for me.

RPGaDay 20: Favorite Horror RPG

Bureau 13.  Just for the Foglio artwork in a horror RPG.

No?  How about Beyond the Supernatural?  Chill?  At some point I should write a blog post about me and horror RPG's and how they never, ever seem to work out.  I'm too much of a clown, my group is too relaxed, I'm gaming with five teenagers, and frankly horror is too easy to slip from inspiring fear and terror in your imaginary character's situation to being a "kill the monster" scenario.

Call of Cthulhu gets close to this.  You don't fight the horrors of the Lovecraftian mythos.  My EOW game system is also pretty good for horror games, because it is so damned easy to die in it (and once you do, you're kind of stuck for the rest of the day-long gaming session) so you're less likely to say, "I just draw my pistol and start firing."

 But I have really, really struggled with the horror genre to the point where I can not honestly say I've had a good enough experience as player or GM to have a favorite.  So this is my "pass" day of the blog-a-thon, I guess.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

RPGaDay 19: Favorite Supers RPG


No question.

Now I will say I have a lot of love for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, more than the next guy (unless he's the guy writing the Plot Points blog), but MHR has a distinct flavor that does a great job emulating comic books, but over the long term tends to start to feel bland.  While I own it, I haven't played Icons, but I suspect the same thing with that game as well.

Does Champions have its problems?  You betcha.  It's got eight million ways to screw with the rules and build over-powered PC's (another reason I hate the internet sometimes).  But with the right players and the right mindset?  It's a great game.

Now for a true confession.  I can not "get" Mutants & Masterminds.  Other people love this game.  I get the feeling that is the literary heir to Champions, so to speak.  But something about the rules doesn't click with me.  It's not that I dislike the rules, I just am having a tough time wrapping my head around them.  Maybe I'm getting old and crotchety or something.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RPGaDay 18: Favorite Sci-Fi RPG

Unlike yesterday, where I had to sort through a ton of games all of whom leave me with a certain lack of enthusiasm, I have a great deal of fondness for a lot of sci-fi RPG's out there.

For example, the greatest RPG campaign I ever played in was with Palladium's Robotech RPG (technically we were using the Sentinels rulebook, although the GM had all of them).

But after years of consideration I'm convinced, as is often the case, that the campaign's success lay in the GM, not the rules.

Or I could go with the Star Trek RPG from FASA.

When I went from elementary school in 7th grade to high school in 8th (which is what happened in that particular region), I went from playing D&D with one other guy to having access to a much larger gaming community of older people, and they were playing Star Trek. It was my first real experience with a gaming group, and my first campaign with a GM who was an adult.  It was a whole new experience, and I have a lot of sentimentality for a game that had a lot of issues.

But no, hands down my favorite sci-fi RPG is (to the surprise of none who read this blog regularly) the Star Wars RPG, Second Edition, from West End Games.

This game captured so well not just the space-operatic innocence of the original trilogy, but also in general how players wanted to gallivant around in the Star Wars universe.  Was the game perfect?  No.  There were serious issues regarding game balance between PC's (if you were into that sort of thing), and years later I would read on RPG forums about how to break the system using Dark Side points, one of the many reasons why I don't bother going on those things any more.

There's lots of other great sci-fi RPG's out there, but this one is just plain fun and has aged very well.

Monday, August 17, 2015

RPGaDay 17: Favorite Fantasy RPG

Let me ask you a question.

I own a Nissan.  I bought it because it was the best used car that was available that was the kind I wanted and could afford.  It's a good car, a car I like driving and fits my needs.

But is it my favorite car?  Would I rather be driving a flashier car, or a car with more character, or a car for which I have fond memories?  Or is the car that I drive every day, the car that works to suit my needs as a person, my favorite car?

See, for two years I (and a friend who sometimes stood behind the screen) ran D&D Fourth Edition.  For the last seven months, going on eight now, I've been running D&D Fifth Edition.  So, if my goal is to get together with my friends and have a good time engaging in a collaborative storytelling game and eating some not-so-good for you food, then either of these two games has met my needs admirably.  And if the Nissan is my favorite car (and I do like it a lot), then either of those two games could be considered my favorite game.  And that's a pretty good argument.

What makes it better is that honestly I don't have a fantasy RPG for which I have a lot of fondness for its game mechanics, its rich storytelling, or with which I have a storied history.

I guess I love the old D&D Cyclopedia. It's a great version of old school D&D that's all in one self-contained volume and it is beautiful.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

RPGaDay 16: Longest Game Session Played


This is kind of a tough one.  Normally on Fridays I do what is considered by many to be rather short sessions, like three to four hours.  However, at the EOW mini-convention that I attend every year, we usually game all day, like from after breakfast until dinner time.  But I'm not sure which of those sessions is the longest.

So, I'm talking about an eight or nine hour session with a break for lunch in the middle.  That's pretty much the norm for EOW.

As a side note, EOW is coming up in October, and I'm supposed to be running a session.  Time to get cracking!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

RPGaDay 15: Longest Campaign Ever

Well, technically speaking, the Traveller campaign the EOW group has been doing has been going on for years, like maybe seven.

On the other hand, they only meet four times a year.

And I only make one of those sessions, at the annual EOW mini-convention.  My PC is a crew member who works in the loading bay of the main commercial spaceship the group owns, so that's not really a big deal when I'm gone.

So, on the side of "this counts and should be my answer" the EOW Traveller campaign is one that has seen the group go from being the crew of a plucky little Free Trader called unimaginatively Beowulf to being about the Beowulf Corporation, which commands a small fleet of ships (mostly acquired through salvaging disabled pirate vessels).   The campaign has a rotating GM roster, and I heard that the last session's GM sort of hit the "reset button" and launched the core crew into another universe where they lost all their resources, et al and are basically back to square one.  We'll see how long that lasts.

In terms of actual playing sessions?  I don't know.  I'm terrible about running campaigns long term, as Adam and I have kicked around here before.  Maybe the D&D campaign I did four or five years ago that went from 1st to about 15th level.  I just did a quick check of the "Friday Night Recap" posts for this 5E game I'm doing at we around 19 or 20 sessions on this one (and at 6th level) which is pretty damn good for me, given my track record.  (This would be, he says in a joking way, about sixty hours of game time, or only seven sessions in Adam's universe, which isn't much at all.)

I could go on at length about how really difficult it is for me to run a campaign over a long period of time.  Maybe another post.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What should you use to hold the Doom Pool?

A Doctor Doom themed dice tray. Currently WIP.

More pics as the project progresses. Comments welcome!

RPGaDay 14: Favorite RPG Accessory

The World's Greatest GM Screen by Hammerdog Games.

Basically it is a blank GM screen with clear vinyl pockets in which you can stick whatever you want--rules, pictures, etc.  And these days, you can find some homemade GM screen insert done by a fan of the game for practically every RPG out there.  So you don't have to keep dropping $10-30 every time you switch RPG's.

With the advent of the "landscape" GM screen I kind of wish I had one that went that way, but since I mostly stand while GMing (for lots of reasons) the additional height isn't such a big deal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

RPGaDay 13: Favorite RPG Podcast

True confession time: I don't listen to that many podcasts.

Second true confession: I have a podcast of my own.  For work, not gaming.  So there you go.

Something in the back of my head says I ought to, because I could theoretically listen to podcasts and paint miniatures at the same time, which I can not do while watching television or surfing the internet, for example.  I can't even really paint and listen to books on CD, because every now and then my attention would be so tuned to the painting that I'd miss something in the text of the book.

But mostly I don't listen because I don't have time.  One reason why I love RPG's is because I can think about them while driving or in a waiting room or shopping for groceries.  I'm not sure I could or would spare the time for podcasts, but I'm looking forward to hearing people's recommendations.

So, the only one I have listened to at all is d6 Generation because it covers more than just RPG's but also board games and miniatures games and I like all those things.  My favorite part is at the beginning, where people talk about what hobby stuff they've done since the last podcast, and for some reason I find that really fascinating.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RPGaDay 12: Favorite RPG Illustration

So, so many choices.  I felt it was a little inappropriate to pick something because was particularly titillating or something that was really reflecting a licensed product (so no Star Wars illustration, for example).  There are a lot of classics out there, but the one I first thought of was this one.

It's from the 1st Ed. DMG.  I love the photo because it seems to encapsulate what I feel like fantasy RPG's should be about, namely average people having to overcome really freaky stuff.  I'm someone who at heart likes "fantasy horror" over "murderhoboing" or whatever fantasy roleplaying tends to be these days.  Also check out the glowing eyes at the bottom of the step.  I love a picture that tells a story and isn't just some awesome looking hero with a heroine slumped in his arms as he rides a dragon or some such thing.

It also, ironically, shows what it sometimes wrong with fantasy RPG's, in that many people will look at the photo and not wonder, with real wonder, what it is but instead say "it's three dwarfs, a halfling, and a magic mouth spell."  I think that one of the real pitfalls for fantasy RPG's, and any speculative fiction-based RPG's, including horror or science-fiction, is that when you have the rulebook accessible to all the players, the wonder and awe vanishes. It's the difference between telling your players that they are being confronted by a vaguely human-looking creature with green skin covered with pustules, lank greasy hair, yellowed teeth, and chipped claws versus telling them that they are facing a troll.  Oh, a troll?  Well fire will take care of that guy.  *heaving sigh*

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Building a Gang in Grimfest

As I mentioned a while ago, my campaign's background changed pretty radically recently from being a sort of gothic fantasy to a grim, fantasy noir involving various factions battling each other across a devastated city.  At last Friday's session, the group told me that wanted to go from being hired swords of the various factions to creating their own faction with the goal of ultimately controlling the city.

Possible gang illustration
This is a big change from the original concept, a sort of "murderhobo" set-up where they were just running around exploring ruins. This is realm-building, and there is not a pre-existing set of rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide for this.  That means that for the first time in a long time, I need to go from encounter building to actually making rules.

First, though, we need an endgame.  At what point does the group effectively become the dominant gang in the city?  I'm presuming that means a certain point of manpower, a number of gang members under their control.  But how many?  And how does the gaming group get them?

From there, I think there should be some kind of both recruiting and maintenance cost for each person: a certain amount to hire and equip, and a certain amount to retain.  The hiring cost should be a little higher, and make attrition an issue (it's cheaper to keep hirelings than replace them).

Then, there should be some rules for what the gang accomplishes each time period (week, month, whatever).  The gang is theoretically doing gang stuff: providing protection to the territory, making forays into other gangs' territory, generating income, etc.  In that there is the potential for losses, both financial and membership attrition from injury, death, and desertion.  There should also be the chance for recruiting new members.

Compounding those rules should be ways in which the gang's management, the PC's, can positively or negatively affect the outcome.  Wizards should be able to provide magical support, clerics heal wounded members, fighters train people, and rogues set up deals, etc.  This should both be an opportunity for for providing assistance, but also have risks as well.  Maybe the wizard's magical help backfires, or the rogue's information is actually a trap planted by another gang.

So I'm thinking I've got some actual rules creation to start crunching on.  But one question: am I reinventing the wheel?  Are there rules in Adventurer Conqueror King or something similar already?

RPGaDay 11: Favorite RPG Writer

I don't know if I have a favorite.  Aaron Allston write Strike Force, my favorite sourcebook of all time, and a host of Star Wars novels.  Bill Slavicek is considered one of the foremost authorities on Star Wars and his SW RPG material was practically canon by LucasArts.  Monte Cook cranked out a ton of stuff under the D&D masthead, and is now doing really interesting things with Numenera and The Strange.

But I'm going to go with Andrew Watt.  I met Andrew in the first few months of being in college, and we became best friends from then on out.  Andrew introduced me to the gaming community at our college, a group that became the social and emotional nexus of my life for the following years.  Andrew was and is a kind, intelligent, creative human being who patiently tolerated my inevitably overly-flamboyant PC's: a Crazy in Rifts, a Smuggler in Star Wars, a Barbarian in Fantasy Hero.  He himself would bring in meticulously-wrought PC's into whatever I was running, like the Celtic Demigod Bard who ended up in my very New Warriors-esque Champions campaign.

Andrew could crank out a ton of backstory to whatever he was working on, literally inches of pages of history, culture, even poetry to his worldbuilding.  He would go onto contribute to the creation of Exalted and Scion for White Wolf, and wrote the introduction to Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth (which sounds so much like a title of something Andrew would be a part of).

He's got a blog out there now and you can see what he's up to these days, which includes apparently still cranking out a ton of material from his fertile imagination.

Monday, August 10, 2015

RPGaDay 10: Favorite RPG Publisher

My favorite RPG publisher?  West End Games.

They are not publishing any more, but West End Games had a very good sense of publishing game material that seemed to match both the source material and how gamers would likely play it.  Some games have a pretty strong disconnect between the creator's original intent and how people ended up playing the game (Cyberpunk 2012, for example), but West End seemed to capture the slightly tongue-in-cheek humor and "Hollywood action" that most gamers seem to enjoy when they sit down at a table.

West End Games published Paranoia, Ghostbusters, and the first Star Wars RPG as examples of their high points as well as lesser-known works such as TORG and Shatterzone.  For a time they acquired licenses to large numbers of sci-fi and fantasy TV or movies such as Tank Girl, Species, Indiana Jones, Men in Black, and the Hercules and Xena TV franchise.  They also did one RPG for DC Comics, which like many licensed superhero RPG featured nice write-ups for the comic book publisher's characters but lousy rules for PC creation.

Two pretty well known names that came out of the WEG stable are Greg Costikyan and Bill Slavicek, the latter of which went onto develop the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons (among many other games).

Sunday, August 9, 2015

RPGaDay 9: Favorite media you wish was an RPG

It's funny, because I have to answers to this question, but both seem right within my grasp.

First, I'd love to see a Lost Girl RPG.

A team of various supernatural beings going around trying to keep the peace while navigating the politics of their society?  There's your "elevator pitch" for a Lost Girl campaign.

As I mentioned above, I think it would be easy-peasy to go this campaign by hacking the Angel RPG, but I'd love for someone other than me to do it.

My second, because I always seem to have two answers to every question, is a Warehouse 13 RPG.

Investigators trying to locate historical objects imbued with almost supernatural abilities, all the while trying to stay under the radar of society?  Again, a really easy sell.  

This one I've actually done, or at least sketched out for my kids, using the FATE system.  You've got Pete (Alcoholic Ex-Marine, Just Having Some Fun), Mika (Raised in a Bookstore, Haunted by Failure), Artie (Former Cold War Spy, Never Lose an Agent), Claudia (Impulsive Inventor, Destined to Become the Caretaker), and Steve (Gay Buddhist DEA Agent, Second Stringer).

So I really don't need this one, but the first would be fantastic.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Friday night recap: beast attack!

One of the re-occurring jokes in my D&D is about bears.  In the first adventure, the group was approached by a couple of yokels who told them they would show them where they had found a dungeon out in the woods (the Tomb of the 99 Mad Monks, as it turned out), in return for a share of the treasure.  The tomb was located in the back of a cave, and in the cave lived two bears.  The group managed to get past the bears thanks to the efforts of Calidis, a druid on the team.

Right after getting through the entrance to the tomb, the team's thief/assassin snuck back out of the cave and killed the two yokels who were waiting outside, thus preventing them from getting a share.  I was worried that this would cause friction in the group, but I did realize I needed to determine the response of the two bears in the cave.  I decided to roll randomly for it, and the result was the bears messed around with the corpses of the two yokels, making it look like they were responsible.

From them on, every time something ethically murky happened, the joke among the players was that "the bears did it."

Well, in last night's gaming session, I had the chance to run a session for the youth half of the group (plus one adult), and the group's bard has a new spell: Summon Animals.  This might be a very under-appreciated spell, because you can summon a single CR 2 beast, two CR 1 beasts, four CR 1/2 beasts, or eight CR 1/4 beasts.  The animals are under the summoners control, and stick around for an hour.

So in the first fight of the night, the bard summons four bears, all under her control.  Turns out black bears are CR 1/2 beasts.

Later, the bard uses the spell a second time,  This time, she summons eight panthers.  Eight.  The druid also has the same spell, and threatened to summon another eight panthers, but I put my foot down and said no.  I already had a PC getting eight "bite +4, dam 1d6+2" attacks going, which is a hell of a lot better than a fireball, given you can get it at its own initiative for an hour.

So in my gaming group I have a new rule I had to implement: if you are going to whip out a smart phone and monkey around during gameplay, step away from the table.  I do allow the youth to have sketch pads, however, so they can draw what is going on.  Here are some examples.

The seal of the gaming group, apparently.

The bard's player draws her own portrait from that night.  Note the bears' names.

My own photo from the gaming session.

I'm imagining at some point the group will just have the bard and druid cast the spell three times in succession, summoning 48 panthers, and just running them through a dungeon (say, the Tomb of the 99 Mad Monks) and following behind to clean up after them.

RPGaDay 8: Favorite Appearance of RPG's in the Media

Okay, so are we talking about the news media, or any other, like an appearance in a TV show, movie, etc.

I just got put onto this series when a friend recommended it for my kids.  It's a great story taking place in a creepy private school in Gotham City.  But where does the RPG element come in?

I suppose it could be from "Big Trouble in Little China"

"Maps," the best friend of the main character Olive, is a huge fan of the game "Spells and Serpents," and tends to view most of their adventures from that paradigm.  When exploring a hidden chamber under the school, Maps says, "I am going to loot the hell out of this place."  She calls Killer Croc a "lizard man," and of course, paints a beholder in art class.

Anyways, my kids love the series and so do I, so go check it out.  Next question!

Friday, August 7, 2015

RPGaDay 7: Favorite Free RPG

Damn, I'm having a tough time choosing between two, mostly because they are so similar.

Basic Fantasy and Swords & Wizardry.  Both solid retro-clones, both well supported, both well loved by their creators.  Basic Fantasy is a tweaked version of Basic Edition D&D, with modifications like an ascending Armor Class.  S&W is virtually the same thing, only with descending Armor Class as the norm (with ascending available in brackets on the table).

Honestly, good luck on telling them apart.  I tend to think that S&W is the more polished product in terms of appearance, but even that is just a nudge.

There are a lot of other options if you were to ask the question in terms of "pay what you want," like FATE, for example.  But since I'd be likely to pay at least something, it wouldn't be free.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

RPGaDay 6: Most recent RPG played

Hey, I was just talking about this!

The weekend before last, at KantCon.  For those who just started reading this blog (and welcome), The Ultimate Hero is this sci-fi/superhero RPG by Paragon Notion, and it basically has everything but the kitchen sink in a fun little package.  I have been thinking that the game really needs an "Appendix N," a list of the inspirational material for the game designers so the player can have some idea of what sort of style they were shooting for.

If not for KantCon, my answer would be once again D&D 5th Ed, which I've been running three weekends a month since January.

RPGaDay 5: Most Recent RPG Purchase

Is it bad that I really had to wrack my brain on this one?

I will admit that a lot of the impetus for this purchase wasn't because I was convinced that the sixth printing of this book was a vast improvement over the previous five, but because I tend to be a bit of a completionist when it comes to my game collections and because, quite honestly, when you've gone into your FLGS a half dozen times or more and never bought anything but still use their bathroom you start to feel a little guilty.

Castles & Crusades is also my favorite "retroclone" that doesn't actually drive me nuts for being too much of a retroclone.  Although to be honest, 5th Edition D&D also feels a hell of a lot like Castles & Crusades.  I think between those two and 13th Age you pretty much have the "what WQRobb wants out of a D&D game" covered.

Now, the RPG purchase previous to that one is a bit more interesting and noteworthy...

Icons is not the superhero RPG for my gaming group, I know that.  They are too self-deterministic when it comes to making PC's.  But my kids have loved the game, especially my son who enjoys improv theater.  (It doesn't hurt that his first randomly-generated PC, El Diablo, was pretty cool.)  Regardless, I've already stolen ideas from Icons to drop into the next game of MHR I go, including the idea of team Distinctions.

I'm pretty sure that's it for RPG purchases for the last year.  For a long time in my life I bought everything that came down the pipe, but lately I've been more interested in just getting a good game going, rather than always looking for a new ruleset.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sample PC for the Ultimate Hero: the Ghoul

I thought I would try out making my own character for The Ultimate Hero.  My character concept was a creepy hitman-style character who could pop out of the shadows, unload a couple of pistols, and then disappear again.  It less than an hour to put together, but here's the result.

Name: Unknown
Alias: The Ghoul
Race: Supernatural (no subrace)

Charisma 2
Intelligence 3
Willpower 4
Dexterity 5 (primary)
Stamina 4
Strength 2

Disadvantages: Dark Secret (10), Foe from the past (10)
Advantages: Ambidextrous (10), Attribute Bonus (Dexterity, 10), Damage Resistant (10), Keen Smell (3), Magic Sense (2), Supernatural Power Specialist (30), Very tough (15)

Racial Abilities:
Immune to Cold
Vulnerability to Soulfire

Passive Defense 11
Active Defense 15
Health 104
Endure Pain 5
Starting Power Level 1
Power Channeling 6
Power Pool 95

Kinetic 15
Will 3
General 3

Shadow Walk 1 (5)
Life Drain 1 (5)
Night Vision (5)
Healing (5)

Martial Arts 6
Range 6
Athetics 5
Knowledge 4
Perception 4
Subterfuge 6

Armored Duster R5, Dur 40, Res N, $250
2 CX Hand Cannons M10, DS6, Crit Severe, Range 125, ROF 1, Res PM, CE, Dur25, $1600
100 rounds of standard ammunition $100
PDA $150
Cell Phone $100
Studio Apartment, two months rent paid $900
$2,900 in cash

RPGaDay 4: Most Surprising Game

This quest seems ambiguous.  Surprising game as in rules, or game session?  And surprising good, or surprising bad?

Surprise as it good?  Because I encountered Marvel Heroic RPG before FATE, the whole idea of a fairly abstract system where descriptors of the PC's mattered as much if not more than stat blocks was a pretty novel concept, and frankly one that has so deeply ingrained itself into my game-brain that I'm constantly saying to myself, "That would be this [TV, movie, novel, or comic book character's] Distinction/Aspect."

I was so used to thinking of superheroes in terms of Champions with point-buy powers and loads of mechanics that the idea of not even having any sense of game balance was a real shock.  But what really shocked me was how well it duplicated comic books, not just super heroes.  Pacing, scenes, characters carting around the emotional baggage that is practically the hallmark of a Marvel story--all represented in gameplay.

Can I just say how surprised I was by the Firefly RPG, in terms of how poorly it was laid out?  That's all I will need to say about that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

RPGaDay 3: Favorite Game of the Last 12 months

Has it been less than 12 months since D&D 5E came out?  Wikipedia says so.

First, I'm surprised that it has only been 12 months since the game has come out, given the real market presence it seems to have.  Second, I'm surprised how few RPG's I've actually purchased lately that I can remember enjoying.  The Valiant Universe RPG was a huge let-down, FATE was two years ago.  I don't think I'm buying as much in the way of RPG's these days.  I think I bought a copy of the Mongoose version of Traveller in there somewhere, but I can't be sure.  Boy, things sure have changed...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

RPGaDay 2: Kickstarted Game Most Pleased You Backed

This is kind of an easy question, because I've only backed one RPG ever.  Blade Raiders.

By Grant Gould, an artist for the Cartoon Network animated Star Wars series, created a fantasy RPG that is so totally divorced from the Tolkein conventions and Gygaxian mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons that it really can't be called a "fantasy heartbreaker."  I've talked about the game elsewhere, and I would still like to try it out sometime.  It would be an easy game to convert into playing a campaign in the world of the Nickelodeon series Avatar.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

#RPGaDay 1

So, lacking much in the way of content on this blog lately, I thought I'd try the RPGaDay blog challenge for August.  Here's the chart.

Day 1: RPG you are most looking forward to.

Tough one, because I'm so out of the loop on what RPG's are in the pipeline.  Star Wars: Force and Destiny from Fantasy Flight Games is due out, and I'm sort of interested in that, but I'm terrified that like practically every other iteration of a Star Wars RPG the inclusion of Jedi will break the damn thing.

And frankly, the FFG games are expensive and they are slowly releasing over three books what should have been in one: scoundrels, rebels, and Jedi.  Cough up $150+ for that, and have the funky dice mechanics?  I think I'm talking myself out of my own answer here.

I have the core D&D 5E rulebooks, and they are a fairly decent version of D&D.  If I don't like that version of D&D, I have Castles & Crusades.  If I don't want to do D&D, I have Dragon Age or Blade Raiders or a gazillion other games.  Supers games?  Got 'em.  A solid sci-fi game?  That's a trickier one, because it is such a broad spectrum in the genre, but there's Traveller or d6 Space or Alternity.

Honestly, what I wish would be released (which is not the question, nor is asked this month) is the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying sourcebooks for The Initative/Thunderbolts, the Young Avengers/Runaways, and Annihilation, all of which are alluded to in the Civil War sourcebook but have never seen the light of day.  And frankly, given how popular the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was, the Annihilation sourcebook could have dove-tailed into that nicely.

Over at Strange Vistas