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Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #4 - Fate

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Fate was a way harder game for me to "get" than I thought it would be. I suspect if I'd never gamed before it would have been a lot easier.

There's a ton of blogs and reviews that can give you all the details of Fate. I'm going to talk about the Fate Accelerated version where I finally grokked the game. Fate Accelerated and Fate Core are officially the same game, but there are some definite differences.

Fate uses Fate dice - six sided dice with two plusses, two minuses, and two blanks. You roll four of them and add them together - adding various modifiers as well, but the dice give a range of -4 to +4. You're trying to beat some difficulty. It sounds pretty traditional.

Here's where it diverges. Fate Core gives your character traditional skills like shooting, piloting, etc. Fate Accelerated goes for approaches - how you do something, Are you forceful? Are you sneaky? Both a wizard and a warrior can be forceful. But your aspects and stunts give more defin…

Actual Play: One in Darkness Part 1

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Do you think I care if there was just beer in that keg? I know what's in it. I know what you've been doing all this time, how you got those clothes and those new cars. You've been telling Ma that you've gone into politics, that you're on the city payroll. Pat Burke told me everything. You murderers! There's not only beer in that jug. There's beer and blood - blood of men!- Mike Powers, The Public Enemy

Based on the adventure of the same name by Doug Lyons with L. N. Isynwill, contained in the Chaosium anthology The Great Old Ones.
Setting: Boston; Wednesday, April 20, 1921

Characters:
Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary: After some unpleasant bouts with madness in New Orleans, Crowley and Tardiff had spent the previous two months undergoing psychiatric care. In the interim, the chaos of the early days of Prohibition had seem an incr…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #5 - Cthulhu Dark

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Cthulhu Dark is without a doubt the briefest game in this list. The rules take up two pages and that includes examples. I'm going to do something a little weird and reproduce the essentials of the first page of the rules. You can see a the full rules of the first incarnation of the rules at http://catchyourhare.com/files/Cthulhu%20Dark.pdf. You can purchase the newest version at RPGNow which includes lots of campaign settings, interpretations of the rules, adventures, etc.


Your Investigator
Choose a name and occupation. Describe your Investigator. Take a green Insight Die.

All dice, including your Insight die, are six-sided.

Insight
Your Insight shows how far you can see into the horror behind the universe. It starts at 1.

When you see something disturbing, roll your Insight Die. If you get higher than your Insight,
add 1 to your Insight and roleplay your fear. (This is called an “Insight roll”.)

Is your Insight real? Can you really see a deeper truth? Or is it just insanity? Someti…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #6 - Ghostbusters

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Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! - Dr. Raymond Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, Dr. Peter Venkman



I think every "Top N" list needs at least one or two "WTF?" entries. Yes, I am absolutely serious, I put West End Games' old Ghostbusters near the top of my Top 19 list.

Funny story. At least to me. When Wizards of the Coast first released their Star Wars RPG there was a lot of criticism about it being "D&D in space" due to using the d20 rules. While the d20 incarnations weren't my favorite (though I do think they got it right near the end of their license with Saga Edition), I always got a chuckle out of that criticism. By that standard, West End Games old Star Wars RPG, much beloved, could be considered "Ghostbusters in space".

For people fa…

Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #7 - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

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This was one of the tougher games for me to place. For a long time, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the main game I played. I’m going to commit some old-school heresy and link the first and second editions of the games together - though there certainly was some stylistic changes, AD&D 2nd edition was more a change along the lines of editions of Call of Cthulhu than the leap between AD&D and Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. One could even make the argument of linking AD&D and B/X D&D but given the number of differing assumptions between the two parallel game lines, I’ve chosen not to do that - though truth to tell, my groups, like most, happily cross-pollinated between the two lines - but we usually preferred AD&D.

What was it about AD&D? I think what I liked about it was that it was a dense game. The early books were tomes you could explore. It was a crunchy game - notAftermath crunchy but compared to B/X D&D there was a lot to the game. I don’t kn…

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 3

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I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask.  ― Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow

[Part One] [Part Two]


Setting: New Orleans, LA; Tuesday, February 1 - Saturday, February 5, 1921
Characters:Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist Summary: Hearing Fowler and Papa Screech back in the estate, the investigators exercised stealth. Crowley and Tardiff prepared to burn the side of the teleportation portal on the estate side of the gate while Furst snuck upstairs to see if there was anything worth seeing.

Upstairs she did find something rather disturbing behind a locked door (which she easily picked) - a shrine to his dead wife and daughter, with a copy of The King in Yellow as wel…

Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #8 - RuneQuest

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RuneQuest is a game I’d love to get a bit more time playing. The first version I picked up was the Avalon Hill-published, Chaosium-produced 3rd edition of the game. For many, if not most people, RuneQuest is equivalent to Glorantha, the default setting of the game. However, the 3rd edition took place on a fantasy version of Earth, with Glorantha detailed in a book in the boxed set.
My own experience with RuneQuest is in using it as the rules for a fantasy version of Earth, with the PCs being either Vikings or Lenape Native Americans, covering a fictional colony set up by Vikings in Manhattan around 1000 AD. It featured evil dwarfs, dragons, and lots of violence. It was a lot of fun. If it went much longer I think I would have thrown in some ninjas and dinosaurs... We actually used a fairly crunchy version of the rules, as designed by Nash and Whitaker for Mongoose Publishing, a set of rules that became the basis for The Design Mechanism’s RuneQuest 6th Edition and later Mythras. Chaosi…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #9 - Dungeons & Dragons (B/X, BXCMI)

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I got my start in the B/X version of D&D and it’s still a game I really like, though it’s been years since I’ve played it. I’m lumping the Basic/Expert game with the later Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immportal sets, later consolidated into the Rules Cyclopedia, one of the greatest single volume games I’ve ever seen. I am keeping it separate from AD&D which will appear in one of the remaining 8 slots - I was a bit torn as to which to rank higher. Part of me wanted to link them all as one game but my own gameplay experiences had them feeling rather different from each other. I certainly borrowed material from one game and used them in the other.

With that out of the way, what was the appeal for me of D&D? As with manu others of my generation, this was my first exposure to role playing. In some ways the game is a bit kludgey, with a variety of mechanics - lots of x in 6 chances, percentile chances, d20 attack rolls, low armor classes are good, etc. Nowadays that’s part of …

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #10 - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

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I’d originally planned on making this list a “top 10 list”, but given the name of my blog, I couldn’t resist the urge to make it a “top 19”. It’s taking me a bit longer than I would have liked. Unfortunately, over the past few months I’ve had to dial back on my posting frequency. It’s been a combination of finishing up my master’s degree (eight classes down, two to go) as well as actually working on my first gaming product intended for publication (more on that in a few months if it becomes something real).
That said, we’ve made it to the top ten. Another of the reasons I expanded it from ten to nineteen is I wanted to get some retroclones that I’ve played in. Today’s entry is one that I’ve really enjoyed - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorceres of Hyperborea. Take Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and super-emphasize elements that would fit into Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborean stories - a swords & sorcery corner of the Cthulhu Mythos.
The rules themselves are a close variant of AD&…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #11 - Vampire: The Masquerade

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I saw Vampire: The Masquerade a number of times at the local Waldenbooks in the early 1990s. As a poor college student without a lot of free time I didn't make that many gaming purchases back then - and without a regular book there didn't seem much point in purchasing it. But every time I was there I flipped through it and was amazed - it was different from any other RPG I'd ever seen. From the evocative art to the comic book style story within to its themes. Eventually I wound up purchasing it.

Truth to tell, I've not gotten that much play out of it - in that, it resembles Pendragon - a game I really like but have gotten very little opportunity to play. However, the few times I've played it were a blast - whether it was dark and moody or superheroes with fangs, it was a blast.

There's a number of things about Vampire that I found - and still find - appealing. I love politics and Vampire games can be all about politics - high stakes politics in the style of th…

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 2

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[Part One] [Part Three]

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
- "Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2


Based on the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign" by Kevin Ross. Originally published by Chaosium in The Great Old Ones, revised version published by Golden Goblin Press in Tales of the Crescent City.







Setting: New Orleans, LA; Monday, January 31, 1921 - Tuesday, February 1, 1921
Characters:


Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary:

After dealing with a bout of paranoid madness, the investigators limped their way back to their hotel to recover from the shock.

The next morning (rather late morning), going over Gavvin's notes, they decided to go to the warehouse being used by the Most Honorable Krewe of Sword…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #12 - Marvel Super Heroes

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There have been a number of RPGs based on Marvel Comics but my favorite remains the original game, as published by TSR in the 1980s. It's been around 25 years since I've played the game but I still have very fond memories of the game.
I believe TSR made the game from 1984 to 1993. There were two main rules sets - the original basic game in 1984 and the advanced game which was releases in 1986. TSR later published a revised basic set. The game reflected the changing Marvel universe - it began with a strong Bronze Age of comics feel, though over time it acquired the Iron Age feel of late 1980s and early 1990s comics - the proliferation of X-Men teams, supernatural characters, etc. Though strongly rooted in the Marvel Universe, the game had rules for your own characters, teams, headquarters, etc. 
The mid-1980s saw a number of "table-based" RPGs - Chill, Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, and Conan are the biggies I can think of. Of the TSR games, I think Marvel did it …

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #13 - Dungeon Crawl Classics

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We're entering a region of my Top 19, probably up to number 6 or 7, where I'd almost be inclined to list a 6-way tie. I like all the games on this list a lot and we're hitting the games that I really, really like.

Dungeon Crawl Classics came out around the time I started this blog so it has a special place in my heart. It takes the D&D 3.x rules and strips them down. It then looks at the stripped down rules and decides they've not been stripped down enough. And then it decides to strip them down a bit further. And then it adds a few gazillion tables for critical hits, spells, deities, etc. It takes Appendix N of 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, the inspirational reading section, as its source material. This gives it a mix of science fantasy, weird fantasy, swords and sorcery. Inspirations like Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter, Manly Wade Wellman, HP Lovecraft, L. Sprague de Camp, Andre Norton, etc. It did introduce me to a number of authors I've come to greatly e…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #14 - Icons

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I have a mixed record with superheroes. I love superhero comics, but my success rate with superhero campaigns is rather limited. That said, there will be some superhero entries on this list - games I have had the opportunity to play and enjoy.

I had the opportunity to clock some time running an Icons campaign and definitely had a lot of fun. It's clearly a relative of Fate, though with a good dose of TSR's old Marvel Superheroes RPG in the mix as well.

Icons does a good job of emulating what you see in a comic book. Characters can slam foes and send them flying. By using Determination, characters can activate Qualities (like Fate Aspects), avoid Trouble, and up their effort to retry failed tests. A character who dies is out of play for at least an issue, but after which may make a miraculous return based on an explanation come up with by the GM and player. No, this is not a gritty simulation of realism. Superman, Captain America, Phoenix, Bucky, Professor X, Doctor Doom, Magn…

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 1

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[Part Two] [Part Three]


In early 1921, the investigators depart Massachusetts to investigate a mysterious death in New Orleans...

Based on the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign" by Kevin Ross. Originally published by Chaosium in The Great Old Ones, revised version published by Golden Goblin Press in Tales of the Crescent City.

Setting: Boston, Mass. and New Orleans, LA; Friday, January 28 - Monday, January 31, 1921

Characters:


Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary

The investigators received a telegram from the great occultist, Étienne-Laurent de Marigny of New Orleans asking them to travel to New Orleans, indicating he required their services in an investigation.

Leaving Boston on Friday the 28th, they arrived in New Orleans two days later after an uneventful rail journey. Much warmer than Boston, New Orleans was …

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #15 - D&D 5e

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Back in 2015 I gave my first impressions of the 5th edition of D&D. Beyond that brief campaign I haven't clocked much 5th edition time but my impressions remain - it's a great game. It takes a number of lessons learned from the 3rd and 4th editions of the game.

Here's my big takeaways on the 5th edition. First, it takes away the necessity of 3.x games to very carefully balance encounters and to plan player characters from first level. It removed the "grind" often found in D&D 4th edition and stepped back from a number of decisions made in there that made the game feel less like D&D. One interesting lesson it took from 4th edition was a "proficiency bonus". When making a roll in something core to your character you add it to your d20 roll, otherwise you don't. A fighter would add it to attack rolls with his sword, a wizard would apply it to her spell rolls. Any character would use it for skills he or she is proficient in. It applies to c…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #16 - D&D 3.x

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One of the oddities in this list is variants of D&D will appear multiple times while games like Call of Cthulhu will appear once. However, I've found many of the editions of D&D are extremely different from one another. If you showed up at my Call of Cthulhu 7th edition game with a 1st edition character, we could probably convert on the fly. On the other hand, bringing a D&D 3.5 character to a 4th edition game would not work.

Additionally, there will be a few retro-clones on this list - primarily if they bring something very new to the gable.

While D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 do have some fair-sized differences, it is clear that 3.5 is an evolution from 3.0 as opposed to an entirely new game, as was done in 4e.

It was tough for me to figure out where D&D 3.x should rank. I want to point out that any game on this list is a game I've both played and enjoyed - and there are a few games not on the list that I've also enjoyed quite a bit.

The 3rd edition of D&a…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #17 - Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games)

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In the late 1990s I resumed regular gaming for the first time since high school. The game we played was Star Trek: The Next Generation, published by Last Unicorn Games (LUG). We played all the incarnations of it - they came out with three RPGs for Star Trek. Their first release was for Star Trek: The Next Generation, covering 24th century Starfleet games. They later came out with releases for the original series and for Deep Space Nine. I really liked their DS9 game as it allowed for a variety of character types, much like the television show it was based on.

When making this list, I gave some thought to all of the Star Trek RPGs I've played. I've played the FASA, Last Unicorn, and Decipher ones. I do have a place in my heart for the FASA game, though I found its extremely tactical combat system a bit of a mismatch for its genre. The Decipher game I didn't get to play all that much. It was the Last Unicorn version I got a ton of play out of.

Like the FASA Star Trek game, …

Actual Play: The Art of Madness Part II

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The Art of Madness is an adventure from the anthology The House of R'lyeh, written by Brian Courtemanche.

Setting: Boston, Mass. Wednesday, December 1, 1920

Characters:

Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary:
In the basement they saw a closed shaft in the floor. Hiding for some time they saw the shaft open from below, a rubbery hand emerging and grabbing it. As they ran to the shaft to attempt tracking it, it heard them and leapt back up - a hideous ghoul, about to strike! A confused melee and firefight broke out. Furst and Crowley opened fire on it while Tardiff swung a makeshift club he'd found in the debris in the basement. It was a dangerous foe and none of them were warriors. Though bloodied, they wounded it enough to drive it into the tunnels. In the chaos Thurber had run off.

Before venturing down there themselves they made for a hardware store and eq…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #18 - Pendragon

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Today's game just barely meets the criteria of being a game I've played, having only played a few sessions - but I loved those sessions. King Arthur Pendragon, originally published by Chaosium (and kinda sorta having found its way back to Chaosium, the long way round).

Pendragon is a game about playing knights in legendary England, as seen through the legends of King Arthur. Its biggest influence is Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. You typically build your character, assumed to be a knight, by first building his grandfather's and then father's history. The game itself is designed to follow your characters for decades - indeed it is expected your character will die in the course of play, either in battle or through old age. Every session is designed to advance your character a year. Finding a wife and getting an heir is therefore of prime importance for your character.

Pendragon uses a variant of the BRP system as seen in RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, thou…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #19 - D&D 4th Edition

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I gave a lot of thought as to whether to include the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons on my list. Of all the games on my list it's probably the one I have the most issues with. On the other hand, I really like a number of ideas that the designers of D&D 4e tried to do. They took some chances, broke a number of "sacred cows of D&D". Looking back, I think Wizards of the Coast would have been better off making D&D 4e a separate/non-D&D game. though I can understand not wanting to have products competing with each other.

What I really liked about D&D 4e was the way it gave all classes a bunch of interesting abilities - some usable at-will, some usable on a per-encounter basis, some usable daily. Characters had different roles which greatly influenced how they'd handle things in combat - some characters were great at slugging it out with multiple opponents, others dancing all over the battlefield. All the classes managed to feel interesting and ha…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - Criteria

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I'm going to be launching a "Dan's Top 19 RPGs" series of posts. I was going to make it ten but with the name of this blog I couldn't help but go for nineteen. I'm hoping to get it done in about a month - it's been pretty hard keeping to a rigorous schedule the past several months, with family health matters and me getting close to completing my Master's degree while working.

This post will lay out some ground rules. The most important is I have to have played the game in question at least once, either as a player or as a GM. This will disqualify a lot of popular games - many of which I've used in some form - some of which I've used a lot of. I'll list them at the end of this post.

The other question is how I'll handle editions. If a game changes a lot between editions I will treat them as separate games. On the other hand, games that are refined from one edition to another will be treated as one game. For example, I'll be treatin…

Developing Boston for 1920s Call of Cthulhu

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While Chaosium has produced sourcebooks for many locations in Lovecraft Country (Kingsport, Arkham, and Innsmouth) as well as non-fictional cities of the 1920s (such as New York City and New Orleans), the nearby city of Boston, while being featured in many adventures, has never received its own full sourcebook.

The most common era for my Call of Cthulhu games has been in the 1920s - some campaigns have been in New York City while others have been in Lovecraft country. For those in Lovecraft Country, many adventures have been in nearby Boston. Over the years I've slowly been building up some expertise in the area and I thought it might be of interest to others gaming in the same setting - whether with Mythos horrors or a purely mundane game.

First, let us investigate those official sources. While Boston has found its way into many adventures, I can think of two sources where it has been given a fair amount of detail. First, The Unspeakable Oath double issue 16/17 has a reference o…

Actual Play: The Art of Madness Part 1

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The Art of Madness is an adventure from the anthology The House of R'lyeh, written by Brian Courtemanche. Featured heavily in this adventure is the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Living fairly close to Boston, I've been to the Museum many times. It's been neat playing an adventure with a familiar place...

Setting: Boston, Mass. Wednesday, December 1, 1920

Characters:

Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary: Fredrick Tardiff had been constructing a new series of contacts to assist with investigations into the bizarre, with the last of his Great War compatriots moving back to Harlem. He had begun meeting with Earl Crowley, an antiquarian who had uncovered one too many things that couldn't be explained by science. Jewelry from Innsmouth of metals unknown to science. Reviews of a French play that had made its audience go mad. He'd also made the re-acquai…