Monday, August 31, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 31 - Favorite non-RPG Thing to Come from RPGing

I've already seen a bunch of people post their thoughts on this and I'm going to be boring and echo what I've seen.

For me, the best thing to come out of gaming not related to gaming is the people I've met through it and the friendships I've formed. I've not become friends with everyone I've gamed with - heck I've gamed with a few people who I'd prefer to not associate with again. And there's some who are great people but we didn't quite click outside of gaming- which is human nature. But I've also made some lasting friendships through gaming which I greatly value. People I can talk about families, careers, movies, sports, religion, and other stuff with. People to hang out with. Oddly, as my gaming has become more online in the 21st century I've found that I'm able to form friendships with people whom I'm never met in person. I've experienced a similar phenomenon at work, where though I work near Boston, I associate regularly with people in cities all over the world, from India to Israel to Canada as well as people in different parts of the United States. And sometimes you click with a person. As I think about it, it's not always people I game with - sometimes there's people you meet on forums that you just find yourself chatting more and more with.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 30 - Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

This is a bit of an odd topic that I'd not normally give  a lot of consideration to - gaming celebrities. There's a number of celebrities who have been known to show up in World of Warcraft online but I'll stick to traditional tabletop games.

I did some googling to see if there were any surprises - turns out actress Dame Judi Dench is known to be a gamer which I'd had no idea. I also discovered conservative columnist Michelle Malkin to be a gamer. Actor Vin Diesel is known to be a huge D&D fan and is always a delight on film (the man managed to deliver the line "I am Groot" with like a gazillion variations in Guardians of the Galaxy).

I'm going to to give the nod to Stephen Colbert who over the time of Colbert Report slipped many D&D references in. He clearly has some serious geek credibility, easily exchanging lines about Tom Bombadil with Neil Gaiman.

Friday, August 28, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 29- Favorite RPG Website/Blog

I'm not certain I have a must-visit RPG website anymore. I still do the occasional peeks at and

Oddly I probably visit Google+ for most of my gaming collaboration. I've got a pretty broad group people in my circles and am a member of numerous communities. I know Google+ gets dinged a lot as a social media site, but I find it excels in bringing people of common interests together. The only negative is if you are a member of many similar communities, you often see the same post multiple times since Google+ does not allow for a single post to appear in multiple communities. Google+ is also a nice play to meet people for online gaming. Some of the people I've met that way I've had a single or a few games with, others I've been gaming with for several years and talk with them outside of gaming.

#RPGaDay2015 Day 28 - Favorite Game You No Longer Play

For this post I have two criteria:

  1. It be a game I used to play a lot
  2. The odds of ever playing it again are small
I'd mentioned the Last Unicorn Games incarnation of Star Trek when discussing my favorite science fiction games. Those games 
have a special place for me. Coming out from 1998 to 2000 they mark the point when I began regularly gaming again. Star Trek was at a high point of its popularity in the 90s and I feel Last Unicorn Games was a great complement to the Star Trek television shows.

There was a great community which formed around these games, centered around the still existing site. Gamers discussed ideas, house rules, etc., the writers of the RPGs were regular posters, etc. In 2000, shortly after Wizards of the Coast acquired Last Unicorn Games, the license went to Decipher. Much of the team involved in the LUG incarnation went on to create the Decipher version, which was itself a fine game that I got a bunch of mileage playing, but I do find myself missing the LUG incarnation of the rules.

I'd have to say the odds of playing it again are pretty small. The biggest problem is the books now being long out of print and coming from an era before digital versions being commonplace. One unfortunate aspect of licensed RPGs is after the license expired the old products go out of print and digital versions are pulled. In much the way you can find classic versions of old video games such as the 25th Anniversary Star Trek game, I hope that at some point someone figures out a way to bring back old versions of licensed games. I'd love to see the old LUG Star Trek games come back, as well as games like TSR's Marvel Superheroes, Mayfair's DC Heroes, and West End's Star Wars. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 27 - Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games Into One

A few days ago I'd mentioned how my perfect game would be some variation of Pendragon, adapted for a setting I preferred over Arthurian.

When I wrote that I was thinking how very much I'd love to see some variant of Pendragon used for playing in the setting of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The passions and traits rules are perfect for modeling the interesting yet flawed characters of the setting - Ned Stark's stubborn honesty, Tyrion's inability to keep his mouth shut, etc. Moreover the system for large-scale battles, managing houses, etc. would fit the setting very well.

I'd also not throw out Green Ronin's effort in their Song of Ice and Fire RPG. The house creation rules are very appropriate to their setting, with the possibility that all characters are part of the same house as opposed to Pendragon's default assumption of each character being a landed knight.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 26 - Favorite Inspiration For Your Game

As far as my gaming inspirations go, I think I've a number that are pretty normal. I like listening to music while I'm prepping for a game, with my choice varying wildly from jazz to industrial. I like jotting ideas down, sometimes electronically and sometimes in a high quality notebook, armed with my Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pen - yes, my technology varies from old school to the latest and greatest.

One thing I really rely on is history. I love learning about the past. Sometimes about the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. Sometimes Colonial and Revolutionary America. I've read much on the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The post-World War I period, the Great Depression.

I especially enjoy learning about how people lived their lives in different periods. I pictured people similar to my great grandparents when I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan. I've had a blast getting into debates with character actors in Colonial Williamsburg (they love it when they learn you're from the colony of Massachusetts Bay...) I imagine I only take a small portion of what I learn to my games - it would not make for an entertaining game to inflict a gazillion little historical details on my players, details which actually detract from the game. But little anecdotes and events help bring the past to life. And sometimes you find an obscure event, like the 1919 Molasses Flood in Boston, that just screams to be used in an adventure. Even when I'm in a fantasy setting not grounded in our world, I enjoy borrowing from our history. In Eberron, which I wrote of a few days ago, the inter-World War period is rich with inspiration. Historic empires give great inspirations for what might happen in a fantasy or science fiction setting. Often you'll find minor players in history who, with a few changes, make for great NPCs.

And it's something I'd be interested in whether I was gaming or not. So why not make use of it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 25 - Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

I've been gaming long enough for that I remember when a lot of now normal game mechanics were first taken for a spin. Though as I gave some thought to today's entry there's one game that kept coming to mind - and it's one I've not mentioned in my #RPGaDay2015. And sadly I've not had a chance to try the game out yet either, though it remains on my bucket list.

I think the best criteria for such a mechanic is that it indeed be revolutionary but also seem obvious - a sort of "gee, why didn't someone think of that before now?" By that criteria, I'm going to nominate the action system of Cubicle 7's Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.

We'll examine a problem that emulating Doctor Who has and then we'll discuss how Cubicle 7 resolved this. The Doctor, in his over fifty year history, has never regularly carried weapons. On occasion he's been forced to make use of them, but generally speaking he defeats his opponents by outsmarting them. Role playing games have had a very difficult time modeling this. FASA's Doctor Who RPG, a game I played a lot of once upon a time, was a great game but didn't really reflect this aspect of Doctor Who.

Cubicle 7 handles this in two clever yet simple ways. First of all, their initiative system breaks order down based on what characters are doing. First go characters who are talking, then running, then doing some non-violent action (perhaps reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, and finally those who are fighting. Secondly, things like talking can do a type of "damage" - not physical, but the damage you give in a social conflict can prevent your enemy from opening fire on you. In my opinion, these simple changes to your typical RPG action scene perfectly capture the way the Doctor operates. It gives an in-game reason to talk to the Daleks. To talk circles around them. They are incredibly impressive at fighting. At withstanding verbal fencing, not so much.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 24 - Favorite House Rule

This posting, I think, is a quick one. And it's not even a house rule anymore though at the time it was...

Back in the 90s, I think in the Usenet group though it might have been in Dragon magazine, I read about the idea of allowing first level D&D characters to start with maximum hit points. It's normal nowadays but at the time the official rule was at first level you started with random hit points. This was an idea I really liked and made use of, though I'm trying to remember if we really ever allowed first level fighters to go adventuring with just one or two hit points. But the rule did protect magic-users from angry housecats. Simple, easy to implement, and greatly improving the game, everything a house rule should be.

#RPGaDay2015 Day 23 - Perfect Game for You

Geez all this obsession with perfection... Perfect game for me.

I'm going to answer this one partially and revisit this one when it comes time to mash-up two games.

My perfect game would be a modified version of Pendragon. It has a number of things that I really like about it. First of all, it has a rules set I really enjoy - though it is d20 instead of d100 based, it is still a BRP system. Very easy to understand and visualize. I also really like the generational play of the game, with each adventure presumed to take place over a year and your character not expected to make it to the end of the game, whether dying of natural causes or of violence. Related to that, Pendragon treats wounds very seriously, harkening back to the state of medieval medicine, in a way that few games do - it is possible to be victorious in battle and then die of your wounds.

There's a few things which prevent this from being a "Perfect" game for me. First of all, I have to confess while I enjoy the stories of King Arthur, I don't have a passion for them and I suspect I'd have a hard time getting buy-in from either my current gaming group or any of my previous ones. What I'd like to see is a variation of Pendragon that is designed for adaptation to other settings and genres - I know some people have done a Pendragon/Runequest mash-up (do a search for "PenDragon Pass"). I think Pendragon would work well for other legendary yet gritty genres - a Viking saga comes to mind, as does a science fiction game along the lines of Frank Herbert's Dune.

The other thing I'd love to see would be a bit more automation being available - the domain rules for Pendragon are great to have but I'd love it for their to be some sort of app that automates much of the domain play, allowing characters to make their decisions and have the results of those decisions automated and the status of the manor, family, etc. all being updated automatically.

So what I'm looking for is a game with a system like Pendragon at its core, with plug-ins for different genre, and some funky software to support it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 22 - Perfect Gaming Environment

This is kind of weird for me since it's been several years since I've had a regular gaming group physically present. That's not to say that I've not been gaming, rather I've been doing my gaming online.

So let's start with physical environment - really what I need for that is a reasonably big table with enough seats for all the players and some space for character sheets, maps, munchies, etc. Now that I have kids I've grown to appreciate being able to isolate that space a little bit to give the group some privacy (and since our humor would often not be suitable for kiddies).

Gaming online has come a long way. Our first effort was when a player moved away and continued to game with us. We used a webcam, a video messaging app, and aiming the camera carefully at any maps we might be using. It worked reasonably well.

Our next experiment was with Fantasy Grounds. It's worked well - it's a Windows Application designed to integrate character sheets, maps, dice rolling, etc. Over time I drifted away from it for a few reasons. First of all, it required the use of a PC. I was a Mac user for a while though now I have two main devices - a Chromebook and a Microsoft Surface. So using Fantasy Grounds required having either a PC or a virtual Windows environment. Secondly, though for supported games it was great, we found it a bit problematic if you wanted to add a new game to it.

What we use primarily nowadays and that I find works very well is the Roll20 online app, integrated with Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts gives us video and audio. Through Roll20 we have character sheets, dice, maps, etc. Character sheets are created and shared by other users. They're not trivial to make, especially fully integrated ones like those for Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPGs. But even a layman can create a basic one pretty easily - I was able to take a Fate character sheet and tweak it for Atomic Robo pretty easily, though it didn't integrate perfectly with dice rolling. It's a platform independent solution - we've had players come in using Chromebooks, Linux, Windows, and OS X. It's not perfect - we've had some hiccups with audio quality, some performance issues, etc. but it does work rather well.

So I've been asked to define perfection though. Well realistically my gaming for the foreseeable future is going to be online, so I'd like to see that improve. Perfection would be something like Roll20 without any of the hiccups and having a perfectly integrated character sheet that also doubles as a character generator. Oh and that allowed us to easily share youtube videos so that everyone is viewing the same thing since we sometimes goof off and laugh at things we find on youtube...

Friday, August 21, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 21 - Favorite RPG Setting

I'm going to narrow this down a bit to cover settings just created for a game and exclude licensed settings and slightly modified versions of Earth.

As someone who gamed back when old school stuff was new, I remember the original versions of settings like TSR's Forgotten Realms. My default game setting was usually World of Greyhawk. I'd still gladly set games there.

That said, I really enjoyed Wizards of the Coast's Eberron Campaign Setting, especially in its original incarnation. It really hit a lot of criteria that I enjoy. It didn't feel like a world that had no room for the players to do important things. It took place in the aftermath of a major war with a strong feeling another one is coming, giving a bit of the feel you get in 1920s/1930s Earth with high action, airships, and lightning rail trains. It had an awesome fantasy city, the city of Sharn, something like a miniature medieval Coruscant.

It did a great job creating realms with interesting rulers, avoiding the supreme black hats as well as ultimate forces for good. And it really took what magic in a D&D setting would be like and ran with it - not going for magic purely replacing technology or having everyone be a wizard, but allowing it to have a major effect on the campaign setting. Eberron felt like a world that was just waiting for the characters to adventure in it. [And as an addition after posting, a player in my game reminded me of the most important fact about it- it had dinosaurs!!!]

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 20 - Favorite Horror RPG

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die.

"The Call of Cthulhu", H.P. Lovecraft

Call of Cthulhu, being my favorite RPG, easily
fits into this category as my favorite horror RPG as well.

The odd thing is I don't recall having played another horror RPG - I suppose playing Vampire: The Masquerade might count but it doesn't seem to be a horror RPG in the same way that Call of Cthulhu is - in that game the characters are the monsters. I've also played Eden Studios' Angel RPG but that's a bit more a monster hunting RPG than one of horror.

Before I talk about the feel of Call of Cthulhu, I'd like to take a look at its rules. There's been a major revision with the 7th edition, but in all honesty, a 1st edition adventure could still be used with conversion on the fly for 7th edition characters. A major revision for Call of Cthulhu is still fairly minor compared to most games. It's a nice simple system where a percentile based skill tells you your base chance of success. It's a game that, in all honesty, doesn't read all that impressively. Yet when you actually play it you find how well the system works.

What I think Call of Cthulhu does so well is it emphasized the characters fragility while not making them helpless. In my opinion the deadliness of Call of Cthulhu is exaggerated - I don't mean to say it is not a dangerous game - it most certainly is, and one unlucky shot can finish off your character and combat with an entity of the Mythos is incredibly dangerous. Yet people do participate in entire campaigns, so clearly not every session ends in a total party kill.

What I find a good Call of Cthulhu session has is tension. If you are extremely careful you have a good chance of success. But not a guaranteed chance. The game encourages you to exercise extreme caution - always seek cover, don't get into a fair fight. Only learn what magic and secrets you need in order to succeed.

I also find that despite the tension, Call of Cthulhu games have a ton of heroism built into them. You have these fragile mortals. Easily killed by means mundane and fantastic. Facing entities that can destroy your concept of reality. And destroy humanity. Ultimate victory seems very unlikely, with humanity existing in a dangerous and uncaring universe. Yet Investigators in a Call of Cthulhu game struggle to hold back the darkness just one more day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 19 - Favorite Supers RPG

When it comes to Supers RPGs I've not had a ton of luck. I think it is largely because there's a number of genre conventions in superhero stories, primarily in comic books, that don't translate well in an RPG. Getting captured, letting the villain get away, etc. These are things that don't just sit well with most gamers.

With that in mind I've a bit less experience in supers gaming than in other genres. Off the top of my head I've run or played in:

  • Marvel Superheroes (TSR, original and advanced games)
  • Champions 3rd Edition
  • DC Heroes (Mayfair, 1st and 2nd editions)
  • Mutants & Masterminds (own all 3 editions, played 2nd)
  • Wild Talents

As with a number of earlier entries, it comes down to two main games.

I played a ton of the old TSR Marvel Superheroes game. It really seemed to capture the Marvel Universe of the 80s and early 90s rather well and was fun and easy to play.

I have also done a brief Wild Talents game, using the Kerberos Club setting. One thing I really like about Wild Talents is how it goes beyond traditional comic book superheroes - it can do them, but it's also designed to do a variety of settings with different genre conventions - indeed a large portion of the core rulebook is dedicated to building various axes of design - how much the world's history diverges from our own, what sort of an impact supers have, the morality of the setting, etc. It also has a system that I find allows characters like Batman and Superman to co-exist on the same team. The original incarnation of Wild Talents, the Godlike RPG, is a great example of a very narrowly focused low powered superhero RPG. Godlike characters are built around willpower which allows them to warp reality so that their powers can work (which explains why a super can lift a tank without having any leverage). They can detect other supers and can become involved in battles of wills with each other. While Wild Talents contains a possible future for the Godlike setting, introducing broader "Wild Talents" with a variety of origins, I'd love to take the pure Godlike supers and run with that in the modern day. With all this going for it, I'm going to give Wild Talents my vote. (If I'd played Godlike I think I'd be voting for that.)

I need to be careful with these posts, they are making me want to play a gazillion other games...

Monday, August 17, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 18 - Favorite SF RPG

Geez this one is really tough too. For a fairly long period the great bulk of my gaming was in the science fiction genre.

I'm going to limit this to only games I've played or run - there's a number, like the Firefly RPG that I'm really looking forward to trying at some point. Even limiting it to that gives a pretty broad range of RPGs. Off the top of my head, that'd include (in rough order of my first time playing them):

  • Gamma World (2nd Edition)
  • Star Frontiers
  • Star Trek (FASA)
  • Doctor Who (FASA) 
  • Star Wars (West End Games)
  • The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic)
  • Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games, various incarnations)
  • Star Trek (Decipher)
  • Star Wars (Wizards of the Coast, various editions)
  • Serenity
  • Star Wars: Edge of the Empire
I'm pretty sure there's one or two missing. Interestingly, I've never actually played Traveller, though I have often borrowed from it for many games.

There's two there that really rise to the top, though I've good memories of all of them. The Last Unicorn Games incarnation of Star Trek is what what got me back with a regular gaming group after many years of irregular gaming at best. We had lots of fun aboard the starships USS Quetzalcoatl and Icarus. We experienced the mysteries and wonders of the starport of Bridgetown and its mysterious Iconian artifact. The online community that grew around this incarnation of Star Trek was a great one and I'm still in touch with a number of people I met online through this game and its successor at Decipher. (I'm actually referenced as an Easter Egg in the Decipher Starships book).  I'm not certain the Last Unicorn incarnation is its best one, but man did I have a ton of fun playing it and it got me back into gaming, a run which has persisted, with breaks of a few months here and there, since 1998...

The other game which comes to mind is the West End Games incarnation of Star Wars. It's probably the game I've clocked the most hours in, though Call of Cthulhu has got to be beginning to catch up to it. I've sung its praises before but I feel its one of the greatest RPGs developed - super easy to learn, plays well, and fits its genre incredibly well. I think Fantasy Flight Games is doing a fine job with its Star Wars games and I had a lot of fun with the various Wizards of the Coast incarnations (especially their final effort, the Saga Edition), but I think West End Games captured lightning in a bottle.

I'd probably give a teeny nudge to Star Wars, mainly because it'd be so darn easy to grab some six sided dice and play a game of it - heck I did so a few months back and had a great time. Star Trek is a bit more involved in terms of rules.
One thing which comes to mind for both of these is the extreme pity there's little chance of either being legally published again - I'd love to see some arrangement made to release previous incarnations of these licensed games.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 17 - Favorite Fantasy RPG

Eek there's like too many of these...

I'm going to go over some of the games I've played before zero-ing in on a favorite.

Once upon a time I had a blast with a D&D 3.5 game in the Eberron campaign setting. I'm going to say that D&D 3.5 was a blast to play. However, in terms of running the game, especially with regard to prep work, I found it a bit cumbersome. I played some D&D 4e and generally enjoyed it but it felt a bit different from other D&D games and we did run into the dreaded "grind" where the outcome a combat is clear several rounds before it ends.

I've also done some RuneQuest - the second incarnation of the Mongoose version. It's pretty similar to the current incarnation. I enjoyed the give and take of RuneQuest combat and the straightforward skills system. I've only done one full campaign with that, a rather enjoyable fantasy Vikings meeting Lenape in Manhattan.

In more recent games I used Dungeon Crawl Classics and Adventurer Conqueror King System. DCC is a ton of old-school fun using a system quite similar to D&D 3.5 in rules but like older D&D in style and complexity. ACKS has that Basic/Expert D&D system as its starting point with some tweaks for domain-level play.

That brings me back to my earlier gaming life with truer old school games back when they were new school. I started with the old Basic/Expert and "graduated" Advanced D&D.

Thinking about this variety of games, I've rather enjoyed all of them to at least some extent and would gladly play them again. I think at the end of the day I'm a big fan of Chaosium's BRP system which is at the core of RuneQuest. Despite not a ton of time clocked in with RuneQuest, I'm going to give that the win - I'm actually getting a desire to take it for another spin or two.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 16 - Longest Game Session Played

Daniel needs his sleep...

To be honest, I'm not a veteran of super-long game sessions. After I moved to Massachusetts and began regular gaming again after a break of several years. there were a number of sessions that would run from around 7 until midnight or 1. But that's not like the twenty hour sessions I know some folks have...

Nowadays, with kids and the fact I'm several years into my forties, even that's a dream, with sessions in the 2-3 hour range. I've learned to use hour-long television drama as a model for planning a game session. Part of me misses the ability to keep a game going deep into the night and into the next morning, but to be honest I'm glad to have people I enjoy gaming with on a regular basis. A player in my group and I have jokingly suggested opening a retirement community for gamers.

Friday, August 14, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 15 - Longest Campaign Played

The next campaign is always the best one. Some of us, like yours truly, are easily distracted by shiny things. I'm rather pleased that my recent Dungeon Crawl Classics "campaign" ran to completion with a total party kill in its second adventure...

My longest overall campaign is probably a game my brother and I would do off and on throughout the late 80s to the mid 90s, working its way through a variety of classic AD&D adventures along with a number of home-brew adventures. The Temple of Elemental Evil fell, the Slave Lords were defeated, as was Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders. Great times were had on the Isle of the Ape as well as a visit to modern (1980s) London to retrieve the Mace of St. Cuthbert.

In a more traditional group I'd say the longest game I played in was a Star Wars campaign I ran from 1999 through 2004, with a few breaks for some Star Trek and D&D 3rd edition. It was a Rebellion campaign, starting off with a Jedi in Training former Imperial Senator and her half-sister smuggler. Over time they were joined by many more characters such as an Ewok, a bounty hunter, and a rugged mercenary. Using the D6 system I introduced many people to gaming in general.With members of the group going through a number of life changes as we entered our thirties it became clear the group was coming to an end. We ended with a bang, finalizing arcs with several NPCs and having the group perform a vital mission during the Battle of Endor - infiltrating the Death Star and deactivating a an internal deflector shield which had been set up to stop any rebels from flying into the superstructure and destroying the main reactor... It ended with singing Ewoks. Yub nub.

#RPGaDay2015 Day 14 - Favorite RPG Accessory II

I've seen a lot of RPG accessories posted today that are not related to gaming products and it got me wondering what sort of item along those lines I'd go for.

I'm a techie. I don't have the absolute latest and greatest toys all the time but I do like my toys. And one thing that makes my life easier is to easily get data on these toys. I tend to prefer digital products nowadays. I have two excellent devices for reading digital gaming products - a Google Nexus 9 and a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. To store all these pdfs and related files I make use of Google Drive. And I also keep my own personal gaming notes - random notes, adventures, maps, writeups, etc. on Google Drive. I run my games using Roll20 embedded in Google Hangouts. I have a Google+ community for my current and past game groups. And I like the collaborative nature of Google+ in general, which has put me in touch with lots of interesting people. So oddly, my favorite RPG accessory of this nature is the tools developed by a giant corporation, Google...

#RPGaDay2015 Day 14 - Favorite RPG Accessory

Discover all the technical and natural wonders of the fantastic Star Wars saga. Here are sleek starfighters that clash with mile-long Star Destroyers, tilling the void with streaks of laser fire and blazing wrecks. Here are armor-clad stormtroopers battling desperate-Rebels across the galaxy. Here are detailed descriptions of the bizarre aliens, devastating weapons, amazing Droids, courageous heroes and cunning villains of the Star Wars universe.
- Back cover text for West End Games' The Star Wars Sourcebook

[Note I'm going with this post I'm defining an accessory as an add-on to a game - I see a number of other people are going with non-gaming accessories- I might make a supplemental post along those lines.]

Shortly after 1983 Star Wars as a franchise began to rapidly dry up. The Marvel comic continued after Return of the Jedi but limped to an end in 1986 as a bimonthly comic. There were cartoons about Ewoks and Droids. And some absolutely horrible live-action Ewok movies.

Into this drying market came West End Games' Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. Its rules were so easy to learn and just felt like Star Wars. I received it for Christmas in 1987 and later that evening my brother and I were playing "Rebel Breakout".

The first supplement for the RPG was The Star Wars Sourcebook. While the initial RPG dripped the feel of Star Wars, it was a bit scant on background and stats. That wasn't too huge a hindrance - it wasn't all that hard to wing things. But The Star Wars Sourcebook added a ton of details. It gave stats for all sorts of starfighters, vehicles, weapons, gear, stormtroopers, etc. It gave lots of background, with much of it written from an in-universe perspective, such as profiles of the main heroes and villains of the trilogy. And about how repulsorlifts, hyperdrives, blasters, droids, and other technologies worked. It was also loaded with illustrations - blueprints of the X-Wing and the Millennium Falcon, maps of Rebel and Imperial bases, etc. This was a great resource, both as a fan and as a gamer.

It's worth noting there's a number of other West End Games Star Wars supplements that would be in a "top supplements" list - of special notes would be:

  • Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters - Moving from the default Star Wars campaign frame of Rebels to including smugglers.
  • Galaxy Guide  9: Fragments From the Rim - A potpourri of details of life in the Outer Rim territories, with pirates, Imperials, Jedi, entertainment, slavers, etc. Probably most notable for introducing High Inquisitor Tremayne and fleshing out the idea of Imperial Inquisitors (which had previously had a single mention in The Star Wars Sourcebook). Even in the new Star Wars canon, Imperial Inquisitors have a large role, as seen in Star Wars Rebels.
  • Planets of the Galaxy Volume Three - Introducing the Elrood Sector, one of my favorite environments for adventure, with opportunities for all sorts of characters.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 13 - Favorite RPG Podcast

Well this is a bit odd since I'm not a huge podcast listener, though a number of players in my group are and I've listened to quite a few on their recommendations.

I think my favorite would have to be The Good Friends of Jackson Elias. First of all it's a super-awesome name, referencing the fictional writer whose fate triggers the classic adventure Masks of Nyarlathotep. Moreover, I really enjoy the way they do their podcasts - the interaction of the hosts is enjoyable, it's not updated at such an insane rate that trying to keep up is impossible (though I'm pretty awful at keeping up), and you can definitely pick and choose episodes to listen to. They've a nice variety of subject matter - focused on the Call of Cthulhu RPG but delving into similar RPGs (like the excellent and underrated Hot War RPG) and discussion of various Mythos fiction, horror films, etc. The topic matter varies but it tends to match extremely well with my own interests. (So thanks guys for customizing your podcast just for me, apologies for not catching every episode!)

I don't catch it as much but I have enjoyed a number of episodes of the Miskatonic University Podcast. It's format is a bit more like that of a radio show, with each episode covering a number of topics and discussing things going on in the world of Cthulhu Mythos RPGs. (And there's a decent amount of back and forth between the two podcasts, with people from one popping up on the other). They also do a bunch of actual play recordings - I have to confess to usually avoiding actual play recordings, mainly because I'm kinda horrified what someone hearing a recording of one of my games would be like. ("Gee Dan, I think that joke about the monkeys would be old on the 35th iteration...")

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 12 - Favorite RPG Illustration

I'm actually able to give a straight answer on this one as I do have an actual favorite - it's a classic and one I'm sure others will have it as well and deservedly so - David Sutherland's A Paladin in Hell from the 1st edition of the AD&D Players Handbook.

For me this illustration captures the heroism of the paladin - not the infamous "lawful stupid" caricature but the true hero who will fight the forces of evil in their own domain against overwhelming odds.

I'd also like to highlight the work of Tim Bradstreet who became best known for his work on Vampire: The Masquerade. Another of my all-time favorites is his "Methusalah" illustration from that game's 1st edition:

It would be hard to overstate the impact Vampire had on the gaming community in the 1990s. A large part of this was its extremely evocative art. I tried to picture one piece of Tim Bradstreet's art which really captured the moment,

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Infected: Reviewer Copy

Over the past few days I've seen some previews for Immersion RPG's upcoming Infected RPG, set in a world crawling its way out of a zombie apocalypse. Now to be honest, their website does have an amusingly bold declaration: " We are a pen and paper Role Playing Game company in the final stages of creating the most exciting system and settings you’ve ever played." 

Their starting RPG, Infected, is due to launch on Kickstarter in about a week. To be honest, it was the artwork that first caught my eye, being strongly reminiscent of the Playstation game The Last of Us.

From reading the reviewer/preview copy at their website, I see Infected takes place a few years after the outbreak of a zombie epidemic. It started with a kind of superflu which put people into a coma that slowly slid towards death - a coma they sometimes "recovered" from as zombies. It's a bit of a change from the infection vectors in The Walking Dead by making it more of a virus. Now a bite (exchange of bodily fluids) is a great way to get the virus, but not the only way.

The game is set some years after the outbreak.  Civilization is not doing all that well, with a huge percentage of the population dead, nations fallen, nukes used to wipe out zombie infestations, etc. The zombies still exist and are a threat but other humans fighting for scant resources are probably the bigger threat.

The system I saw from the preview is pretty straightforward - it uses attributes and skills for task resolution. Unlike most games you roll twice - once testing the attribute and once the skill. You see how much you beat each target (if you beat them) and combine the results for your overall success level.

What I rather liked is the variety in the infected zombies - there's typical hunters, really bloated ones leaking pus, one's that can mimic humans, and, most interesting, alphas, which function as pack leaders and have a sort of cunning that most lack.

The preview copy is a very attractive product. I think the editing needs to be tightened a bit - for example the combat section starts with Step 1 - Roll initiative and continues to Step 3 - Roll to defend. I can infer the attack roll is missing but it's a bit of a nasty omission. It's a preview copy so it's certainly fixable, but it did stick out a bit. [Note - and in reaction to this they have gone ahead and corrected this - yay!!! Like I said, this isn't the finished product - I've read early editions with markups like <h1> and Infected is well beyond that.]

That said, the setting really shined. It's hard to make a zombie apocalypse setting stand out and I think this one does nicely. I see echoes, whether intentional or not, of a number of properties I rather enjoy - The Last of Us is an obvious one, but I also get vibes of Justin Cronin's The Passage and even a little bit of Stephen King's The Stand. It's an evocative setting, with images of "green zones" clinging to some semblance of safety while dealing both with the infected and with other humans.

It's definitely worth a look and the preview is available at their website. I can definitely see backing this Kickstarter. Well unless the pdf-only goes for $100 and a physical product costs another $100. That might be tough to justify to Mrs. Stack...

(Note I've no affiliation with the makers of Infected.)

#RPGaDay2015 Day 11 - Favorite RPG Writer

OK this one isn't fair - there's about fourteen gazillion I'd pick...

I'm not even going to give a pretense of trying to pick just one. This time I'm going to list those writers who, seeing their name on a product, will make me give some serious thought to buying it when I might not otherwise. This is a somewhat random list and I'm sure I'm going to leave someone off that I'd wanted to include...

  • Mike Olson - While not having a huge portfolio, he made some very interesting tweaks with the Fate system in the Kerberos Club's Fate version (an amazing setting to begin with) and fully realizing that in Atomic Robo, a game which so perfectly captures the feel of the comic it is based on.
  • Steve Kenson - Best known for creating Mutants & Masterminds, I actually first heard of him back when he did some writing for Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek: The Next Generation. Once upon a time he shared with me some of his background for a sector he developed for the system, including how he was also able to use it for graduate school work. He's since gone on to some amazing games such as Icons, Blue Rose, and Mutants & Masterminds. As a comic book fan, I find he manages to capture the feel of the Marvel and DC universes at their best.
  • Dennis Detwiller/Shane Ivey/Greg Stolze - I list these three together as I so often find two or three of them together on products I greatly enjoy such as Wild Talents, Godlike, and Delta Green. When I see them alone I check out the products as well.
  • Mike Pondsmith - I don't see to much by him lately, but I signed onto the Mekton Zero Kickstarter with very fond memories of Cyberpunk 2020 and Castle Falkenstein.
  • Fred Hicks - I'm not sure I've read any of his solo works as I can't recall him alone on a product, but he's shepherded a ton of excellent Fate and other products. This isn't damning with faint praise - seeing his name on a product is always a good sign.
  • Monica Valentinelli - Designer for the Firefly RPG as well as a number of my favorite World of Darkness products. I've not given Firefly enough love in this blog. 
  • Ken Hite - Master of the Cthulhu Mythos and other weirdnesses, showing how they can be realized in a variety of ways. He's produced products dealing with Lovecraftian superheros, a bizarre post-World War 2 series dominated by a giant (really really giant) serpent falling on the Earth, and produced many different ways of seeing different Mythos entities.
  • Cynthia Celeste Miller - Writing an RPG for Saturday morning cartoons? And another that screams Bronze Age superheroes... Sold. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 10 - Favorite RPG Publisher

I seem completely unable to give an absolute straight answer on these posts. But that's ok, as they do seem to have me writing a heck of a lot more than I had been...

If I were forced to pick one I'd probably go with Evil Hat Publishing. They've produced some great games, have fantastic customer service, and seem to be just good all-around people. They don't produce a ton of products but at the same time they seem to have found a way to determine what it is they're able to take on and deliver on that.

Who else do I like?

Chaosium produces my favorite RPG, Call of Cthulhu. If their new management irons out some of their problems, they'd be tied or ahead of Evil Hat. (i.e. delivery of Cthulhu 7th Edition physical books, finally realizing Pulp Cthulhu). I'm cautiously optimistic on this front.

It's hard for me not to like Cubicle 7. They've put out a ton of games that are on my list of "I really really wanna play" - Doctor Who, The One Ring, Lone Wolf, The Laundry. I've supported a number of Cubicle 7 Kickstarters and have been pleased with the result of all of them.

Similarly Pelgrane Press has produced some rather interesting games. Trail of Cthulhu is the other game engine I'd consider using for some Mythos action and I've been greatly enjoying their recent Dracula Dossier. Another publisher in the Mythos is Arc Dream Publishing, current publishers of the Delta Green supplements and fiction. They also produced the Godlike and Wild Talents games, giving a very interesting take on superheroes.
I'd like to also throw out an extremely small press publisher, Sine Nomine Publishing, which is basically Kevin Crawford. He's put out games like Stars Without Number, Spears of the Dawn, etc. Like I've mentioned in the past, his games and supplements just scream "play me!". Moreover, he runs the most boring Kickstarters I've ever seen - and I mean that as a supreme compliment. Here's the date, here's what I'm promising, no insane stretch goals.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 9 - Favorite Media You Wish Was an RPG

You come into camp, rent my lot, within six hours you blow in a guy's eye with Wild Bill Hickok backin' your play. Next day, I'm supposed to sell you the lot, put you in business, without askin' who the fuck you are or what the fuck you're doin' here?
- Al Swearengen, Deadwood

I'd love to see someone taking a stab at making an RPG out of HBO's Deadwood. One of the problems I've had with running a campaign set in the American Old West is getting a good frame for the campaign. Sure, one can add the undead (which Deadlands does to great effect), but I'd love to see a historically accurate Old West. The challenge in adapting Deadwood is the loads and loads of characters. Such a setting seems a great option for troupe play, as described in Ars Magica and in other games. In this model, every player has a few characters, often of varying importance and/or power levels. While Deadwood is a violent place, you would want to use a system that also deals with varying motivations, handles challenges like overcoming addictions, etc. Fate is an obvious system of choice and I suspect Hillfolk, with its emphasis on modeling drama, would work well. For a bit of an odd suggestion, it does occur to me that one could do a pretty bizarre variation of Pendragon with its passions and morals.

I'd be inclined to do something rather similar with HBO's Boardwalk Empire as well, which is in many ways was the successor to Deadwood.

I'm also going to suggest some properties that I'm not as familiar with but I know my thirteen year old daughter has a bit of an obsession over. First of all are the young adult post-apocalyptic novels, films, and shows that have been popular over the past several years - The Hunger Games, Divergent, The 100. Similarly there's the popular young adult supernatural television shows such as The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf. These properties have the potential to bring a new audience into RPGs. With that in mind, in all these cases I'd like to see a straight adaptation with the proper rights acquired instead of something with the serial numbers filed off. Such properties also seem to warrant having their own full RPG, not as a supplement for another game. It can use a common gaming engine like a Fate or a World of Darkness variant but the system would need to be complete in the rulebook. I think Fantasy Flight Games has a great model with an introductory boxed set which gives you characters and teaches you the rules and then has a full core rulebook for making your own characters.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 8 - Favorite Appearances of RPGs in the Media

When I was in middle school I saw the movie E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial. One neat scene was a bunch of the older kids playing a D&D game (or something a whole lot like D&D). Though in my neck of the world (Connecticut) didn't have the massive "D&D is satanic" scare that other parts of the country did, it was really neat seeing a D&D game presented as something a bunch of people did to have a good time - unlike Mazes & Monsters which seemed to posit you'd lose your mind, go exploring in the caves or steam tunnels and finally try to jump off one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Tom Hanks making the mistake that clerics get flying spells....

I've grown to enjoy some more tongue and cheek gaming references. My favorite is probably the reference to Trogdor the Burninator in "Chosen", the series finale to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can't find any video of it online but I did find the script:
GILES: I'm — I'm — I'm all turned around. You're here?
XANDER: By the pillar, yeah. I'm protecting this area.
GILES: That puts me over by the door. Demons around the perimeter. Right! I open the door.
{Pan over to show Andrew is also at the table, but he's wearing a red hooded cloak.}
ANDREW: {reading from a book} You go through the door and are confronted by Trogdor the Burninator.
GILES: Oh, bugger it. Fight. {rolls dice, sips wine}

ANDREW: Adios to 5 hit points. Trogdor has badly wounded you.

A close second on Buffy is a scene where Xander, researching a demon, accidentally refers to a D&D book in the episode "Smashed".

Finally, while it isn't a single moment, I really enjoy the fact that in the Dresden Files series of novels, Harry Dresden games with a pack of werewolves and takes great enjoyment in playing a barbarians.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 7 - Favorite Free RPG

Free? Free is good.

I think we can ignore scurvy pirates. Most RPGs are available for "free" if you're willing to go to some sketchy sites and be willing to justify doing so to yourself. Rather we'll be focusing on free RPGs that the creators intended to be free...

I'm also going to be focusing on free complete games, not free teasers or introductions.

For this, I'm going to go back to Evil Hat's Fate Core RPG. You can go to RPGNow right now and get yourself a copy of it and pay absolutely nothing for it. That is a great deal. You get an absolutely complete game that you can use for years.

I'll also give a few honorable mentions.

  • Stars Without Number - A game I'm itching to try someday - almost went with it in place of our current Star Wars game. Kevin Crawford's games do a lot better than tell you "oh set your game in a sandbox" - they give you a ton of tools and awesome backgrounds to do so. In Stars Without Number you are adventuring in the ruins of a once great interstellar civilization.
  • Mini Six -  While the D6 System itself is available free as well, Mini Six boils the D6 system down to its essentials in a small number of pages. I've taught many people how to game using the D6 Star Wars game and I think this system would work rather well to do so and also work fine for veterans.
  • Swords and Wizardry - All the incarnations (White Box, Core, Complete) are available for free. The most common old school clone RPG, mimicking the original D&D rules.
  • Labyrinth Lord- While illustrated versions of the game cost money, a no-frills version of this Basic/Expert D&D clone is available for free.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 6 - Most recent RPG played

Today's entry is a bit easier for me to answer straight. The most recent RPG I've played (and the next one I'll play) is Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. For May the 4th I ran a one-shot Star Wars game (using the West End Games d6 system). It was rather fun and we wound up turning it into a campaign, though we are using the Edge of the Empire system for the campaign. The game is set around four years before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV - the Rebel Alliance is in the process of coming into being but for the time being, a being has to earn a credit. We've got a quixotic Jedi, an Ewok demolitionist, a bounty hunter, a former pirate, and a rabble-rousing droid. I'm raiding my extensive West End Games Star Wars collection to give me inspiration and resources - our game is set in a modified version of a pre-Vampire Mark Rein-Hagen's Minos Cluster, from the Tramp Freighters Galaxy Guide.

Amusingly the first few days of this #RPGaDay experiment looked like it would be a Fate love-fest but I see Star Wars is now getting some love.

#RPGaDay2015 Day 5 - Most recent RPG purchase

You'd think this'd be an easy question. Most recent RPG I paid money for, even if I've not yet received it in the mail? Most recent I've taken possession of? Something else?

Hey, I get to answer in multiple ways.

Most most recent purchase is an order of Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars:Force and Destiny RPG Core Rulebook and Gamemaster Kit. Of course looking at my order status I see it as "Pending Shipping". C'mon folks, let's get this puppy out the door and to my house. In all honesty, I'm not certain how much use I'll get out of this book in the short-term - though my Edge of the Empire game does have a quixotic Jedi in it and we use the Force Sensitive specialization from that book for him. But I'd like to keep this campaign going for a while and I'd love to get some Force action in the game at some point. With the new movie coming out this December I'm really hoping to stave off the dreaded GM ADD.

I did just yesterday get a Kickstarter fulfillment in the form of the Feng Shui RPG. I'm not a massive fan of Hong Kong action films (not that I have anything against them) but there's just something bad-ass about a game that absolutely encourages you to grab two pistols and open fire while you are diving out of the way of gunfire. I'm not 100% sure I'll get use out of this game, though I'd love to give it a whirl at some point. Now if Robin Laws could snag the full rights to Feng Shui's predecessor, Nexus: The Infinite City and do an update of that.... That'd be something I'd have to find a way to play.

Monday, August 3, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 4 - Most Surprising Game

Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
- Han Solo

Well this one could be interpreted in two ways. One could go negative with "I thought it'd be awesome and it is a total turd!" But that seems mean. So I'm going to go with something better, way better, than I thought it'd be.

My most surprising game would at this point be Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars series of RPGs (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny). I'd had Edge of Empire for a while but at first glance the dice mechanic really threw me. Especially given the fact that I primarily game online nowadays I didn't see how I'd get much use out of it.

However I recently began a Star Wars Edge of the Empire game online and much to my surprise I'm beginning to grok the rules. Add to this the fact that some kind soul made a full dice roller for roll20 and you've got yourself a winner. I might do a review of the game at some point - this certainly isn't one.

I know a lot of people aren't fans of the campaign-specific core book, preferring one main core book. I was a fan of the old Last Unicorn Games Star Trek RPGs and its a model I rather liked and also liked it in the original World of Darkness.

In any case, I'm finding the innovation of interpreting the dice to get advantages, successes, failures, etc. all from one roll to be rather clever and very cinematic in style. It manages to get a lot of Star Wars feeling into it. I'm fighting GMADD like crazy (Cthulhu always calls me) but I have a blast with our sessions and with the 7th Star Wars movie coming this December, I might be able to stave it off a bit longer. (Wait, what's that? OOOH, SHINY!!!!)

One big negative with the game is the lack of the books available online. As I understand things, the license with Lucasfilm prohibits the creation of digital books as that would somehow require a video game license. I could be mistaken, but I know that's the essentials of what Wizards of the Coast dealt with. It's a frustrating situation, especially since as I wrote this I did a quick Google search and was able to find pirate copies of the game online in seconds.

#RPGaDay2015 Day 3 - Favorite New Game of the past 12 months

This topic is a little iffy as one can define both a new game and the past 12 months in some odd ways. For example, is a new edition of a game a new game? And in what form does it need to be? For example, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition became available digitally last November, though I'd had a backer preview for several months. And the physical books are still pending.

I think it's reasonable to go by the date the game became generally available in some form. But I'll cheat a little. First, we'll go with a new edition. Then we'll give a truly new game. And finally we'll stretch 12 months to mean a bit more than 12 months. Timey-wimey...

Overall I'll go with Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. I did a brief review of it a while back and since then I've gotten some mileage playing it. It plays easily, retains compatibility with previous versions of the game, and adds some much needed modern conventions to the game without changing things for the sake of change. The PDF version gives me hopes for a gorgeous physical product that I'm looking forward to despite my now going primarily digital for my gaming.

I'm also going to give an honorable mention to Cubicle 7's Lone Wolf Adventure Game. Back in middle school my friends and I got a ton of mileage out of the Lone Wolf books. Mongoose tried two incarnations of Lone Wolf - one a d20 game and the other a pretty much straight out adaptation of the very simple rules in the original gamebooks. Cubicle 7 took those rules as a starting point but added a bunch of options easy to bolt on for more experienced gamers. Like Call of Cthulhu, Lone Wolf is still awaiting its physical incarnation but the digital incarnation is a sight to behold.

If I stretch time a little bit I'd add that last year's Atomic Robo is one of my absolute favorite RPGs period,  up there with Call of Cthulhu. Fate Core is a great game. What Atomic Robo does is say "here is how you do it,  now go play!!!" Unfortunately the game set me back a ton of money as I went on to buy every Atomic Robo comic...

And for good measure, I'll add that Mage: 20th Anniversary and Feng Shui both look like a ton of awesomeness, though I've not had much time to go through them.