Showing posts with label #RPGaDay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #RPGaDay. Show all posts

Friday, August 02, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019 Day 2: Supergame is a "Unique" Part of RPG History

This is a post about a truly unique super hero role playing game and how I came to find a copy in the "out of print" bin at a local game store.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Super Hero role playing games. My entry into this particular gaming milieu was Hero Games' excellent Champions 2nd edition role playing game. I happened upon a copy and was amazed that game designers had even attempted to capture super heroes using game mechanics. At the time, I was only familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers, Tunnels & Trolls, and Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. I had played all three of those games and their mechanical foundations did not prepare me for what Champions offered.

Unlike the other games with which I was familiar, Champions did not have randomly created characters and instead allowed players to build whatever they could imagine. The only limit to the character you could design was the number of points available at creation (100 points with 150 more possible if you took Disadvantages). Other than that, it was all good. During my initial Champions experience, I didn't have anyone to play the game with and spent all of my time making characters and doing some solo battles. My character builds were heavily influenced by the sample characters in the rule book and thus were typically of 200 total character points (100 and 100 from Disadvantages). This included my personal write ups for the X-Men. I was content with my view of the game, but this view was to be shattered in short order.

A couple of months after I discovered Champions my family moved to a new city, I finally encountered a group of gamers who played the game every weekend. Given that this was the Bay Area, and the game company was a Bay Area company, I soon discovered a rich and vibrant Champions community. I also discovered that how I interpreted character adaptations to the game was very different from others. Some of that difference, I maintain to this day. I personally believe that too many gamers inflate the stats of their favorite characters out of love for the character, rather than an examination of benchmarks and mechanics of the game. But these are things that can only be understood through play, and that was something I had not yet done with Champions. In playing the game, I learned how some combinations worked better than others and I learned that other players were much more likely than I had been to "grab" the "Obvious and Accessible" items some characters used in combat. Not that I designed a lot of those kinds of characters, I didn't, just that I had expected gamers to behave more like the characters in comics than like "tactical gamers" and that the rules treated gamers as tactical gamers while allowing them to behave like characters in comics.
Long story short, I learned that you can only truly judge the quality of a game by playing it. I still love Champions and think it is one of the top 3 or 4 super hero games out there, but my view is now grounded in experience of how the game works and how when some character building norms take over the game can slow down significantly and lose some of its charm.

Eventually, my love of super heroes and super hero games led me to purchase Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Super Heroes, and DC Heroes, all of which have there charms. At one point in time, not that long ago by some standards, I could claim to own a copy of every super hero rpg published (at least in one of its editions). With the explosion of pdf based publishing, that is no longer the case and I'm sure I'm missing out on some great games, but I also have a HUGE backlog of games I'd like to play...see how I'm pulling this back to the question of the day?

Among that backlog is Jay Harlove and Aimee Karklyn/(Hartlove)'s early Supergame. It wasn't the first super hero rpg published, that was Superhero 44/Superhero 2044, but it was one of the first and predates Champions. Both the first edition and revised edition came out in 1980. I discovered the game as a "real" thing and not just something mentioned in old gaming magazines, when I moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college in 2000. I was looking for gaming stores and found a long standing game store in Long Beach that had a copy of the 1st edition. Later searches on the internet have shown me that I got a significant bargain on it, as I did with copies of Warlock and a couple of other games originally designed by the Southern California gaming community.

Supergame, like Superhero 2044 which predates it and Champions which comes after it, has a point based character creation system. It also has an interesting skill and combat system that I think has a lot of potential. Some of the stats are odd in how they are presented. For example, if a character has an Agony score (similar to Stun for Champions fans) of 10 or more they suffer no penalties to how they move or act. Given that scores start at 0, and that some sample characters have 0s in other stats implying that a score of 0 is sometimes the "average" score, it seems odd that a person has to spend points just to be a normal person in some areas and not others. Why not just have stats start at "average" and let people buy them down later? Or why not have Agony start at 0 with no penalties and allow negative scores to cause impairment? It's a small complaint, and there are a number of neat features like different defenses against different types of attack (pre-Champions remember). A thorough reading of the rules, both editions, and the supplements has convinced me that I need to play this game to evaluate whether the designed characters are effective at all in a way that would be fun. There are far more characters who have an Agony of 10, or a Physical (like Hit Points but with those with less than 10 being hurt), which means that if they suffer just 1 point of damage they will be impaired.

I think there is a very good game buried in the Supergame rule books, but I think it is a game that needs a lot of play testing and rules tweaks to bring out that game. I applaud Jay an Aimee for their hard work on the game and their ability to get a game like this published in 1980, and this is definitely a game I wish I was playing right now. I have so many questions I'd like answered and I'd love to house rule this game into a more complete system.

I don't know how many copies of Supergame 1st edition exist, but I do know that you can purchase the original and second edition of the game on DriveThruRPG. Precis Intermedia Games reprinted the game last year with a high quality scan. The pdf includes both the 1st and 2nd edition of the rules. I don't know where Brett got his copy of the 2nd edition for the reprint, but I do know where he got the copy of the 1st edition. It's my personal copy. He treated it kindly as he scanned it for the project. I'm glad he did, because I think that this is a unique gaming item.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

My First "Real" Role Playing Game Experience #RPGaDAY2019 Day 1

Every year game designer Dave Chapman aka Autocratik (Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, All Flesh Must Be Eaten) issues his #RPGaDAY challenge where he asks gamers to blog once a day for a month using prompts he has designed. This is the sixth year of the project and I've started participating every year, but have failed to make it all 31 days. I'm going to try again this year.

As mentioned earlier, the goal is to use Dave's prompts to guide the posts. This year's prompts can be seen below and they begin quite simply with "First," so that's where I'll start.

I've blogged about my first experience with Dungeons & Dragons in a prior post, but that experience wasn't my first "real" experience with role playing games. It was my first experience to be sure, but it was such a bad experience and so unreflective of the hobby that I don't think of it as my "real" first experience. That honor goes to Citadel of Chaos by Steve Jackson. This is Games Workshop's Steve Jackson, not Steve Jackson Games' Steve Jackson, though Steve Jackson Games' Steve Jackson did write the Scorpion Swamp adventure (not confusing at all).

Citadel of Chaos was the second volume in the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook series created by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, but it was the first volume that I purchased. I bought the book at a local book store shortly after my parents purchased me the D&D Basic Set for Christmas. I had read the D&D rulebook several times, but I had not yet played the game so there were some gaps in my understanding of just how role playing games worked. Sure, there was the excellent example of play within the Basic Set, but it was still hard to imagine the array of choices that are available within a role playing game and it was Citadel of Chaos that provided the perfect demonstration of how rules affected narrative.

By the time I picked up Citadel, I'd already read a number of Choose Your Own Adventure books. I was comfortable with interactive fiction as a concept, so the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks would have interested me even if I hadn't received the Basic Set as a gift, but there was something that set the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks apart. They didn't just have a pick your path narrative, they also had rules for combat, magic, and interacting with the world. At least, Citadel of Chaos did. Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first Fighting Fantasy Gamebook only has rules for combat and interacting with the world, it lacks a magic system.

Had Warlock been my first encounter with the genre, I don't think I'd have had the same excited reaction to the concept. In addition to lacking a magic system, the adventure in Warlock has only a single solution. There is only one way to complete the adventure successfully. That wasn't the case with Citadel. There are a couple of ways to have a happy ending playing Citadel and this fact kept me coming back to the book and replaying the adventure several times. By having a magic system and multiple paths to a successful conclusion Citadel gave me a better sense of how role playing games worked.

Sure, the mechanics of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks are simple to the point of being almost simplistic, but they are surprisingly flexible and have resulted in a complete role playing game that holds its own and that has a good fanbase.

I don't want to reveal too much about Citadel, only to say that it is worth checking out and that by bridging the gap between Choose Your Own Adventure books and full Role Playing Games, it makes a perfect introduction. Steve Jackson, unlike that cruel first Dungeon Master, wasn't arbitrary in his plot design. He wasn't cruel. He created an interesting and fun narrative that allowed sufficient choices that multiple plays resulted in different experiences. This fact alone, that the same book could result in different stories, was the revelation I needed to completely understand role playing games as a kid. They were stories, often starting in the same place and with the same modules, but where the players shaped what the end story would be.

After that, I was hooked.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Printable Minis are an Underappreciated RPG Resource. #RPGaDay 23, 24, and 25

Another day, another couple of days missed #RPGaDay and a catch up post.

Day 23 -- Which RPG has the Most Jaw Dropping Layout?

I know that this is going to be a really controversial opinion, especially with how beautiful the new Starfinder book looks and how amazing every book Monte Cook has been putting out lately looks, but in my opinion the D&D Essentials Player's Books had the most jaw dropping layout.

No, they weren't as artistically beautiful as the books I just mentioned or Symbaroum, DC Adventures, or Tales from the Loop. Those books are all stunningly beautiful works of art, but jaw dropping layout isn't about the illustrations (though they matter). For me, what matters most about layout is how it leads the user through the information. It's a matter of design and not art and when it comes to design, the D&D Essentials duo are stunning.

These two books break the rules down into consumable chunks that are clear and concise, must like the Moldvay/Cook B/X D&D rules, but their real beauty is in how they guide players through the character advancement process. If you open up to the Fighter: Slayer section, it is broken up by level and tells you what choices you need to make at every level. You don't have to flip between sections of the book, the options are clearly articulated there and presented in a manner that aids the learner through the process.

Day 24 -- Share a PWYW Publisher Who Should be Charging More.

There are a lot of great publishers offering Pay What You Want (PWYW) products on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG and I have more than taken advantage of the products available. Sometimes I pay more than the "recommended price," and other times I'll pay as low as $0. I usually feel very guilty when I don't pay any money because the truth is that what I want to pay is more than that. We all have limited funds and it's great that some publishers are able to offer some of their products as PWYW as loss leaders for their other products. A lot of other people have promoted pro-groups like Evil Hat Productions, and they are a big PWYW publisher with professional quality books, but I'm going to focus on a small segment of the hobby that can make all of our games better at very low cost. That segment is the printable miniatures segment and it features some great PWYW publishers.

One of the publishers I really like is Kev's Lounge which has a really nice balance of PWYW and pay a small fee for miniatures bundles. There are some very strong illustrations in the series and they print out very nicely. Marshall Short, who runs the excellent Patreon Printable Heroes, uses patronage to fund some fantastic miniatures. I'll add one last publisher, who's work isn't free but is wonderful, with Jess Jennings. Jess' line of Trash Mob Minis are perfect for gaming with grownups and kids. The cartoony style is fantastic and the characterizations are really fun.

Day 25 -- What is the Best Way to Thank Your DM?

Single malt scotch.

Okay, as great as single malt scotch is, there is one better way to thank your DM. It's actually pretty simple. Come to your sessions on a regular basis, come prepared to play and without looking at your phone every five minutes, and be respectful of your DM's time and energy. We put a lot of work into DM-ing and some of us really like to do it. We can only do it if you show up, and we want you to show up because we really like having you as players.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Marvel SAGA RPG is the Easiest Game in the World to Run and Play! #RPGaDay 22

Image Source Wayne's Books

I love super hero role playing games. There was a time, before the digital explosion, that I could claim that I owned every super hero rpg that had been published. They run the gamut from highly complex games like Champions to abstract and indie games like With Great Power. You might think that my love of these games stems from the fact that I'm a HUGE comic book geek, and that's true, but I also love them for another reason. It's a reason that also answers today's #RPGaDay question.

Day 22 -- Which RPGs are the Easiest for You to Run?

Super hero role playing games are the easiest of any role playing game for me to run for a wide variety of reasons. First and foremost among these reasons is that they are the most accessible games for people to play. "Accessible," you say, "but aren't Champions and Mutants and Masterminds tremendously complex when it comes to character creation?" Yes, they can be mechanically complex, but all superhero games are more accessible than fantasy role playing games because they have more shared qualities.

When I run a fantasy role playing game set in a fantasy world, there is always a learning curve regarding the nature of the setting. If I play in an Eberron campaign I need to know certain things about the setting that are completely different than if I'm in Dark Sun, Oerth, Mystara, Westeros, or a million other worlds. But it most superhero campaigns, all I need to say is "you will be playing a superhero team based in Los Angeles" and everyone is in a similar imaginary landscape. While I need to worry that the "magic system" of a fantasy setting fits the setting, comic books don't care about such things. Doctor Fate's cosmic scale mysticism stands side by side with John Constantine's arcane rituals, Amethyst's crystal magic, and Arion's Atlantean magic.

The stories also fall into place. How do the characters get together as a team? I'll just borrow the classic get the team together through misunderstanding and melee that made me fall in love with Marvel's The Champions or the first issue of The Avengers. This misunderstanding melee meetup provides a perfect opportunity to teach the players the rules of the game, build personalities, and introduce villains who will be used throughout the campaign.

One of the absolute best super hero games is TSR's Marvel Superheroes Adventure Game. It's simple card-driven system and game balance allow for every player in a combat to matter. Captain America is always an important contributor, and unlike in the new Defenders TV series, so is Iron Fist. The character sheets are easy to read. And my favorite part? The cards have enough information on them that by drawing about 5 from the deck, you can come up with an adventure on the fly with location, motivation, and villain determined at a quick glance.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wildlings Does a Lot with Very Little, but Could Do More. #RPGaDay2017 Day 21

Day 20 -- What RPG Does the Most with the Least Words?

I've played a lot of role playing games over the years and am always on the lookout for a game that can combine setting, rules, and accessibility in a manner that can be picked up and played within 10 minutes of starting to read the game. It's one of the great curses of some excellent role playing games that they require hours of homework, if not weeks, before one can fully understand the setting and rules sufficiently to play a game.

Take Runequest for example. The game's basic mechanic is very intuitive. Ray Turney and Steve Perrin were quite smart to have basic skill and combat rolls be based on percentile rolls. While it may take a moment to describe how to read percentile dice, most people understand the sentence "You have a 78% chance to hit it." It means what it means and it's very clear. The Battle Magic, Rune Magic, Rank/Intiative system, and the Glorantha setting, take a little bit longer to understand. Add to that the fact that your 78% chance to hit isn't really a 78% chance to hit, it's a 78% to hit them if they fail their parry or dodge roll, and you add some non-intuitive elements to the system. Though those elements can add to the realism of game play.

On the other end of the spectrum is Champions. While it uses six-sided dice for its randomizer, the system isn't intuitive. To hit someone, you have to know your Offensive Combat Value (determined by dividing your DEX by 3 and adding modifiers for maneuvers and "combat levels") and add that number to 11. You then subtract your opponent's Defensive Combat Value (determined by their DEX divided by 3 and modified by past combat maneuvers and "combat levels"). You then need to roll this number or less on a roll of 3 six-sided dice. Never mind the complicated system, though it elegantly incorporates the "parry" and "dodge" rolls of a Runequest style game into one roll, what's not intuitive here is that most people don't know what the odds of rolling a 14 or less are off the top of their head (it's about 90.72%). Add to this a character creation system that is a tremendous amount of fun, but takes a lot of homework and practice to get familiar with, and you don't have a pick up and play game.

jim pinto (he uses lower case) has designed a number of games intended to be pick up and play in his GMZero and Protocol series of games. There are some great entries in this series, and I almost picked them as my selection for today's post. I highly recommend The Death of Ulfstater and Home. These games provide enough background detail to launch a rich and interesting game and have a pretty quick to learn system that is easy enough that it expects everyone to take a "director" moment in game play.

But my pick for this week is John Harper's very interesting proto-game The Wildlings. In very few words John Harper perfectly captures the setting:

You Have Been Chosen
The men and women warriors of your clan are far away
across the dark sea, raiding. You are a young warrior—a
Wildling—not yet tested in the Trials.
Two nights ago, a foul thing crept from the ruins beyond
the old forest into the village and carried away two sheep,
a barrel of lard, and a small child: Rylka, daughter of Yuri
Red Hand.
The wise women have met in council and decreed that
something must be done. The People of the Stone Spire are
not to be preyed upon. Though the child might be eaten
by now, a rescue must nevertheless be undertaken.
You have been chosen for this task. Take up your arms and
steel your courage. The time has come to do your duty.
You know exactly what is going on and what your supposed to do. It's three short paragraphs, but it frames a society and and adventure. Very elegant. The rules are also equally easy to learn and adapt and are narrative in form. The more successful you are, the more positive adjectives you get to add to your action.

But...there is one problem. Without StupidGremlin's expansion of the rules, it isn't quite playable out of the box. An experienced GM can run it out of Harper's player's kit pdf, but an inexperienced one is left with no aid on how to resolve conflicts other than the adjectives. How much must a player succeed by to "win" at a conflict. With the tightness of the earlier prose, I'm pretty sure that John could have done it in two pages or less, and with great graphic design.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tom Moldvay Basic: Why It's Great and Where to Find it. #RPGaDay 2017

It's time to catch up on my #RPGaDay writing again. This time the questions seemed initially unrelated, but once I found my answer to the first question it became clear that they should be combined into one post. The role playing game that I believe features the best writing in long out of print and therefore someone interested in finding it might need advice on a good source for out-of-print RPGs.

Day 19 -- Which RPG Features the Best Writing?

I can imagine a lot of bloggers answering this question by waxing poetic on how this or that meta-narrative game has the best writing. I can almost see them typing away to praise Vampire the Masquerade for its evocative text, or Pendragon for its ability to capture the tone of courtly love. Both these statements are true, but neither of these games captures the best writing I've read in a role playing game. That honor falls squarely on Tom Moldvay's Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

Never before, and never since, has there been a role playing game rule book as well written as this edition of D&D. It was the first edition of the rules that the average person could pick up, read in an hour or two, and play the game. Holmes' first Basic set was a huge step in this direction, and was the first edition of D&D that was actually written with playable rules that didn't require too much interpretation, but it didn't quite capture it. Steve Perrin and Ray Turney's Runequest is very well written and clear, but isn't quite as approachable to the new gamer as Tom Moldvay's work.

Tom Moldvay did something quite challenging. He addressed not only how to play D&D mechanically, but how to play it socially as well. By including an "example of play" and answering questions as simple as how to read a four-sided die when you roll it, he made role playing more accessible than it had been up until that time. Later writers focused on getting more evocative in their world descriptions and providing interstitial prose that seemed straight out of a novel or short story, often very well written, but they forgot that they were writing a game too. Or at least they seemed to forget they were writing a game. Many "storytelling" and "less crunchy" games have rules far more sophisticated than D&D, and when they have even simpler rules - as is the case with Cortex+, FATE, or Apocalypse World - they often get too caught up in their jargon and end up obscuring what are wonderful gems.

Well written role playing game rule book doesn't require you to "see it played to learn it." A well written role playing game is playable out of the box, and Moldvay's is a perfect example of how do to it.

Day 20 -- What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

No long answer here. The best places to find out-of-print RPGs Noble Knight Games, Board Game Geek, and eBay. That's it. The important thing isn't the "source," it's your level of patience. You have to be willing to pass by offers that are too expensive on eBay or Noble Knight and wait for the right offering. You also need to decide whether you are collecting to collect as artifacts, or whether you are collecting to play. I collect to play, so I don't buy the most expensive copies. I am not collecting to resell as an investment. I want to play and to have future generations play. To that end, I peruse these sites for deals.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Game I've Longed to Play and the Game I've Played the Most #RPGaDAY

So far, I've been able to keep up with all the necessary #RPGaDAY posts without getting so far behind that I quit due to the dread of having to write 10 or more posts at once. One of the reasons for that is that this year's set of questions have been good prompts, and the other is that I've decided to make a concerted effort to post more often.

I missed yesterday's prompt, but it and today's are very much related in them and I'll be combining them into one post.
Day 17 - Which RPG have you owned the longest and not played?

I own a lot of role playing games. I'm not saying I own "the most" role playing games, as that claim would be absurd, but I own a lot. Over 500 a lot. Probably more than that. I own more role playing games that I've cared to enter on RPG Geek because it just takes too long. I should update them on a database, but I've got work and research etc. and I just don't have the will to do it. Besides, a lot of my games are in a storage unit I've converted into a gaming library. Needless to say, it's a lot of games.
Some of those games I bought just to read and see how they did things. Cosmic Enforcers comes to mind as one of these kinds of games. It's a super hero role playing game and given that I've already got my favorites in that category it was doomed to be mere reference material. But there are some games that I bought because I really want to play them, even if most of my friends probably won't. I buy them in the hopes that one day I'll be able to experience at least a one-shot of the game. I bought Scion: Hero and Tour of Darkness for this reason. 

The game that I own the longest and have not played falls into the "I really want to play it" category. Back in the days before the "Sweet Pickles Bus Wars" a friend of mine got a copy of Star Frontiers. I loved the illustrations and I loved the setting. I desperately wanted to play and I soon got my own copy. I read through the rules and made up several Basic and Advanced characters. I talked about the game with my friends and we planned a sleepover gaming night...then the "Sweet Pickles Bus Wars" began and I had to put off playing it. Years later, another of my friends expressed an interest in playing and had even written up a campaign to run us through, but that was never to happen.

I've owned the game a very long time and have not played it once. It's a game from a different era of play and I would love to get a chance to play it some day, even if only for one session that is followed by a campaign in the Federation using Savage Worlds rules.

Day 18 - Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

When the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition Player's Handbook came out, I hadn't gamed for a few years. I'd spent the couple of years before the release finishing my undergraduate education and didn't have much time for RPGs. My wife and I had just moved to Los Angeles and didn't know a lot of people. I'm the kind of person who needs a circle of friends to help me recharge from the stresses of day to day toil and struggle, and gaming is the perfect hobby for that. It didn't take long for me to find a group of players, most of whom are still my good friends today, and kick up a campaign.

That 3.x campaign ran from 2000 to 2008 and we played almost weekly for a good chunk of that time. I saw characters go from first level adventurers struggling to survive in the Sunless Citadel to 20+ level paragons who battled against a living fragment of Tharizdun that was was destroying the Feywild, the Elven Pantheon, and all the Elves on Oerth. After years of adventure, the campaign came to an end and the world of Oerth was changed forever as many of the old gods (not Old Gods) perished in Tharizdun's wake and were replaced by a new Pantheon. Oerth's elven population was significantly reduced as the corruption of Tharizdun's influence in the Feywild manifested as a wasting disease that killed 90% of that world's elves.

It was a blast...and it exhausted me. I was ready for a new game system and that's around when 4e came out. It was too early for many, but it was at exactly the right time for me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Learning to DM, Thoughts on Campaigns, House Rules, and Rules as Written. #RPGaDay Megapost 2, Days 13-16.

Overall, I've really been enjoying this year's #RPGaDay question line up and am trying to give each question more than a single sentence answer. I love the RPG hobby and questions like these are a time to share thoughts an memories as well as to answer questions.

That's another way of saying, "give me an inch to talk and I'll take 50 miles."

Day 13 - Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

I imagine that for a lot of gamers, this is the kind of question that evokes a tale of the "best gaming session ever." In such a tale, the author would wax poetic about how having a DM of Matt Mercer quality changed their life forever and made them a better gamer. That is not my tale. Mine is a tale of abject failure and learning from that failure.

I'm at a point in my life where I think I'm a pretty darn good DM. My gaming groups tell me they have a good time and there tends to be great energy at my tables and our stories often go off in wild directions. Heck, my groups have even developed their own sayings over the years. My favorite is the famous Drow saying, "It's as easy as shooting a dwarf in a well." I'm not saying I'm on the same level as a GM as Tom Lommel, Jordan Caves-Callarman, David Crennan (America's DM), or Satine Phoenix, but I am proud of the sessions I run. And the reason I am a good DM today, is that I was once a terrible one.

The interesting thing is that I didn't start terrible. I was inexperienced, sure, but the early games that my friend Sean McPhail and I put together had narrative qualities to them and our characters had personality. In my late Elementary school days, I was heading in the right direction. Then came my first experience being a DM for someone who'd never played. (Dun...dun...dun...)

A friend of mine in Middle School, not the one from the Sweet Pickles Bus Wars, saw me with some of my D&D books on campus and wanted to learn to play. We arranged a sleepover at his house with a couple of friends and we did our best all-nighter Stranger Things impersonation. Except it wasn't that cool at all. I had done ZERO preparation and didn't want to use one of the modules I was familiar with. I wanted to run my own adventure to teach these folks the game. So what was my adventure? I don't remember the particulars, and I'm pretty sure that I've suppressed them because it was so bad, but suffice it to say that it started in a tavern, had a fight with goblins, and ended with the PCs going down to Hell and killing Tiamat. They would have slaughtered all the levels of Hell if we hadn't gotten so tired.

That was all in ONE night. From 1st level to high enough to kill Tiamat. It was awful. I knew it was awful at the time. I was essentially opening to random pages in the Monster Manual and having them fight the monsters on the page.

As bad as it was, and as HORRIBLE as I was, it was still fun. It was at that point that I knew the game was better than I was as a DM and this was a good thing. I wanted to aspire to be a DM who improved the quality of the game instead of one who was "saved" by the quality of the game. That night changed my approach to the hobby and I'm grateful to the friends who endured the evening and were kind enough to wait years before mocking me for it.

Day 14 - Which RPG do you prefer for open ended-campaign play?

For me, the most important quality for open ended play is that the characters start out as great at what they do and stay that way. For a game to be truly open-ended, it cannot have class levels where characters start as inexperienced and work their way up to demi-god status. That makes for a great campaign, but not open-ended gaming that can be picked up at any time and place. In my mind, and this may be different for you, open-ended play is like a never ending soap opera. And I mean that as a complement. Good soap operas tell compelling stories for decades, but they don't tend to have people go from newb to l33t. If someone is l33t, they stay that way.

Games like D&D and with its levels, or Runequest with it's path to Rune Lord, don't fit that bill for me. They are fantastic games, but not open-ended in the way I'm interpreting this question. Surprisingly, Call of Cthulhu isn't either. I've heard too many stories of players with skill ratings in the implausible range, or even with enough power to fight the Elder Gods (can you imagine? That's like my D&D story above), to think that Call of Cthulhu fits the bill.

The best role playing games for open-ended action are super hero role playing games. The characters all start out highly capable, they are super heroes after all, and in most systems the character improvement curve is very shallow depending on how you run the game. In Champions, as Aaron Allston pointed out in Strike Force, characters tend to learn new things rather than get increasingly better at the things they do. This is especially true if you are enforcing campaign wide Damage Class restrictions. Mutants and Masterminds has a similar phenomenon. But the best two games for this kind of action are Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) and DC Heroes (MEGS), and of these two I have a deep love of DC's system.

What both of these systems share is that they use experience as an expendable resource. In Marvel it's Karma and in DC it's Hero Points. In both cases, the points can be spent to have an effect on outcomes. Why is Spider-Man able to hang out with Thor in fights? Because he spends a lot of Karma in those battles. Why doesn't Thor get even more Godlike? Because increases at his capabilities are super expensive and it's easier to learn to do new tricks with your powers. Why is Batman able to hang with the Justice League, I mean seriously? Because he blows through Hero Points like nobody's business. He's constantly going for "Devastating Blows" and Pushing attacks all day. Sure, his devastating blows are in the form of "exploiting the weaknesses of his opponents" rather than haymakers, but that's the mechanic.

Batman and Spider-Man's player can play for years and only increase in power by an increment, or choose to get better at a lot of things. The stories though, never get stale. This is because the challenges are at a fixed level an stay there.

I imagine that D&D could work that way if you started at 5th level or so and just told stories at that challenge rating, but that fails to take advantage of the "I'm getting better calculus" that underlies the game. The calculus underlying Marvel and DC is "I just did something normally not possible at my power level" and that's why it feels satisfying for very long periods of time.

Your mileage may very, but that's the kind of gaming I like for open-ended campaigns.

Day 15 -- Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Image by Andrew Asplund
Given my love of the Savage Worlds gaming system, one might expect that I'd drop that one down right here. Nope. Not that I run it "as is," though I mostly do, but it's not the one I'm always wondering what I could do with it. Though to be honest, I have yet to see anything it can't do with a little tweaking. The game I enjoy adapting the most is 4th Edition D&D, in particular it's Gamma World variation.

Shocking! I know.

It's just that the game can do pretty much EVERYTHING. It makes the basis of a very good super hero game. It's easy as pie to make Rocket Raccoon using the rules. You can be the characters from freakin' Phoenix Wright!

For what it's worth, I find that the Gamma World iteration and Essentials are all you really need. Once you realize that the game is really an effects based game and that you can rename powers whatever you want, it opens up endless possibilities. Coming from a super hero background, as I do, reskinning powers has never been an issue for me and I think this game can do least in a one shot setting.

Day 16 - Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

Truth be told, I play most games "as is." I don't have a lot of time to spend creating house rules for games I'm playing and changing them up. I'd rather write adventures than tweaks to a magic system. This isn't to say that I don't do any house ruling, but I do tend to try to give the designers respect when I sit down to play. For example, a lot of people feel uncomfortable with Savage Worlds' initiative system when they first read about it. "You mean it uses CARDS? And you reshuffle a lot?" But the fact is that it's a fast, furious, and fun way of handling initiative that has a lot more give and take that it might seem just reading the rules.
Clearly from my previous statement about reskinning 4e like crazy, 4e isn't the game I play "as is." No, that honor goes to Champions 4th Edition...still the best edition in my mind. The fact is that Champions is extremely well designed and well balanced and any tinkering I want to do is filled up with making characters and not house rules. The 4th edition of the game stretched the rules to as granular a level as I like to play. 5th edition got a little too "engineering" based for me and the players I gamed with started to fall too much into the "if it's not on your page and paid for, you can't do it" camp for my liking and that seemed to be a trend with 5th edition. The 4th edition started down that path, but was only beginning. Like GURPS and 3.x/Pathfinder, this is a rules set that tries to have a rule for everything to ensure that you have a fair and consistent answer for every question. The underlying math is sound in the game, though Wayne Shaw did make an argument for a change in the skill system on my Geekerati podcast that I agree with.

If only I had 4 weeks to teach people how to play and make characters before starting up a campaign. I really miss playing this game, but it's not one that's easy for players to pick up and play. There is an initial learning curve, particularly if you are making your own characters. But God is it a great game.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Castle Falkenstein is Among the Most Inspiring RPGs Ever. #RPGaDay2017 Day 12

Day 12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

During the early 90s and 00s, there was no game designer who constantly managed to be on the cutting edge of gaming ideas more than Michael Pondsmith. He pioneered several role playing game genres. His Cyberpunk role playing game captured the cool and gritty scifi genre of the same name with a game that managed to capture the feel of the genre in a way that made it accessible and fun even as it retained the realism of the inspirational media. His Mekton games and Teenagers from Outerspace brought Gundam, Ranma 1/2, and Tenchi Muyo! inspired gaming to tabletops. The Dream Park role playing game is underrated, but for my money, the best and most inspirational is Castle Falkenstein.

Quite simply, Castle Falkenstein changed the way I thought about gaming. It had a strong focus on storytelling and used CARDS...PLAYING CARDS as its game system. It wasn't the first rpg to do so, but it was the first rpg in my experience to do so. And it had style. The book was beautiful and evocative and captured the genre so perfectly. It wasn't just a Steampunk game, it was a Steampunk game that felt "of its era." It was Prisoner of Zenda meets Jules Verne meets The Wild Wild West meets Sherlock Holmes meets Spenser's Fairie Queene. 

And the art perfectly captured that feeling and has inspired almost all of my subsequent gaming experiences. Whether I'm running a Superhero game or a Fantasy game, I've always got a little Castle Falkenstein inspired spice in the mix.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Four #RPGaDAY Questions in One Blow! #RPGaDay -- Days 8 to 11

Sorry I missed a couple of days, but the prospectus for my dissertation took priority. Writing everyday, either here or on something else, keeps my brain working in a way that helps my prospectus, but I still have to write the prospectus too. As a reward for completing a draft, though I already know some areas I'll be improving this weekend, I'm ready to answer the questions I missed.

Question #8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?

There are quite a few RPGs that fall into this category, including CHILL which I talked about earlier, but I'm going to focus on one that's a little controversial here. The single best game for short sessions that I've ever played is D&D 4th Edition Essentials. With the Essentials rulebooks, and the Gamma World boxed set, Wizards of the Coast took what was a well designed but poorly executed and confusingly written game and turned it into one of the best introductory role playing games ever published. The Essentials editions accomplished what Wizards of the Coast was trying to do with their Red Box reproduction for 4e and created a new "Basic" edition of the game. The character classes in the Essentials edition were "pre-optimized" and the feats offered in the books were just enough to add flavor.

And don't give me any of that "4e is a great tactical game, but terrible role playing game guff." <Insert Cranky Old Man Voice>If you didn't get good role playing out of 4e, that's all on you and not the rules. Because role playing is about your actions and has nothing to do with rules sets. I ran 4th Edition, and especially Essentials, for two years at my Friendly Local Game Store (Emerald Knights in Burbank) with a mix of experienced and new gamers. The rules in the Essentials books were simple enough for the new players to understand and some of the best ROLE playing I've ever engaged in was with that group.<Exit Cranky Old Man Voice>

The Lost Crown of Neverwinter adventure for D&D Encounters is second only to The Veiled Society in my mind as the adventure most likely to go off the rails into it's own magnificent story line fit for launching a campaign.

Question #9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

The quick and easy answer, also the cheap and lame one, is to say any role playing game. When you own as many rpgs as I do, the likelihood that you'll ever get to play them all is remote. Given the monolithic dominance of the D&D and Pathfinder brands in players' minds and interests, it's hard to get to game in other rule sets some times. Add to that a limitation of only being able to game once a month, and playing 10 sessions become 10 WHOLE SESSIONS! To me that's a mini-campaign. I've seen some great answers to this question online, ranging from Savage Worlds to Shadow of the Demon Lord. Since I love those games, and the Fantasy AGE game too, I'm going to keep those as D&D alternative recommendations for games to play for years when you are tired of D&D.

For the 10 session rule, I'm going to recommend Symbaroum. My reason for recommending Symbaroum for a short campaign isn't that I don't think the game can handle a long campaign, rather it's that they've written a great short campaign for the game that fits perfectly in 10 sessions or so. Symbaroum is a deeply evocative game with excellent art work. It also has a rich setting and easy to PLAY rules. The presentation of the rules in the book aren't the most intuitive, as you have to skip around a bit to get to the rules since they put a lot of the rich background in the front and put character creation just before the background section and the rules in the middle and back of the book. Yes, that's a complaint. The translation is clear and playable, but I'd have liked a more logical order to the rule book especially given how easy the game is to play. It's a fantastic system that is close enough to D&D that players can pick it up on the spot, but different enough that it has its own feel.

Speaking of "feel," Symbaroum is also that rare game that captures the feeling of fantasy literature. D&D is a great game to play, but I never feel like I'm playing a novel. There are just too many options, in part because D&D is trying to capture the feel of a genre (for the most part) and not a particular setting. In focusing strongly on setting, Symbaroum adventures feel like collaborative novels. I mean this as a very high complement. This is one of the best RPGs I've read and watching the folks at Saving Throw Show play the intro adventure is a perfect demonstration of how great this game is because they learn and play in the same session.

Day 10: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Where do I go for reviews? Where do I go for reviews? C'mon man. I write a blog about gaming with my kids and friends and write my own damn reviews (okay, I don't do it often enough). I've even written for The Robot's Voice man...I've been paid to review stuff...(ed. note: Stop the Gamer Rage!)

Okay, snide gamer rage aside, I do have a couple of places I go. I'm friends with a TON of gamers on the Book of Faces, so I'm constantly checking out what they have to say in their posts. I read Tenkar's Tavern, and he sometimes reviews things, I also read some of the reviews on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow. Nerdist is a good place to read reviews, though they should hire ME to write for them (ed. note: I told you to STOP that.). I listen to Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws' podcast. For the most part though, I love the diversity of product offerings in the hobby so much that I'm kind of review immune. I buy a lot of RPGs and bad reviews don't stop me from buying and I often own them before a good review comes out. I wish I wrote more frequently about the games I think are great. Reviews play an important role in promoting products in this very small market and I feel guilty when I don't promote games enough.

Day 11: Which "dead game" would you like to see reborn?

Whew! All caught up. Man, this is a tough one. There are some great games out there that have been abandoned or gone out of print because they never caught on. People I follow have already mentioned James Bond 007 by Victory Games/Avalon Hill and Dream Park. A very good retroclone of James Bond 007 called Classified is available and you should track down Dream Park if you can. For my money though, I'd really like to see the Good Guys Finish Last and Villains Finish First superhero role playing games by Better Games be reborn with a new and beautiful edition with updated artwork.

The designers at Better Games were ahead of their time with their "Free Style Role Play" games. These games used descriptors to both describe what characters could do and to determine how much damage they could take. A "robust" character would have more physical damage boxes than a "smart" character, but the "smart" character would be able to take more mental damage. Those aren't actual descriptors, at least I don't think they are, but it gets the point across. The game system used a very simple 2d8 system where the difficulty of using the power and the roll needed in order for it to be successful were related. Additionally, and this is pretty genius. This particular game wasn't just a superhero role playing game. It was also an emulation of running a comic book title. As you did better, and achieved ignobles (goals in the game), you got more powerful and your comic book reading audience increased. With an increased audience came more difficult challenges, but also better art etc. I only wish that the good folks at Better Games hadn't been so tied to artists who were emulating the IMAGE style. It dated the game, even then, and I think dissuaded people from picking up a great product. I'd love to see it relaunched with high quality and thematic art.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Half-Elf Who Carried Hemp Rope -- #RPGaDAY Day 7

"What was your most impactful RPG session?"

I'm not quite sure what Autocratik means by "impactful" in today's question, but I'm going to answer it as if he asked what my most memorable RPG session was since impactful could be interpreted a number of ways.

I've gamed long enough that I have several memorable gaming sessions, and I've written about one of the negative ones in The Munchkin Book and on this blog in the past, but I'm going to write about one of my favorite memorable gaming sessions. Like many of my favorite gaming memories, this one included my friends Sean McPhail, Ron Peck, and Robert Faust (author of Osprey's Scrappers game). It was the first session of a new D&D campaign (2nd Edition) and Robert and I had decided that my half-elf and his elf were brothers who cared deeply for one another.

Robert's elf was slight of build and the community we were in was heavily bigoted against elves and other races. My half-elf was more human in appearance and was extra-ordinarily strong (somewhere in the 18/60s to 18//70s). Some humans were harassing Rob's character and he eventually told some of them that if they continued to harass them they would have to face the consequences and repeat what they said (or something of that nature, it is many years ago) to his very strong brother.

They asked him with great skepticism just how strong his brother was.

"How strong?" Rob's character responded, "He carries Hemp rope."

Cut to a shot of my character wearing 2 crossed loops of 100ft of Hemp rope each, Banded Mail, and a two-handed sword. Note that in 2nd edition 50ft of Hemp rope weighed 20lbs. My character was walking around with 80lbs of rope. Why? It wasn't for flexibility, it was purely to show off his strength.

The response of the NPCs was a resigned "Oh" sound that will be familiar to anyone who has seen John Wick.

I may have some of the specific details of the encounter wrong, but I'll never forget "He carries Hemp rope."

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Game a Day, for a Week?! What is this Madness?! #RPGaDAY Day 6

While all of the #RPGaDAY prompts are thought provoking, most of them fall into the realm of "realistic." Today's prompt is the rare exception. Autocratik's question of the day is, "You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do." First, that's a wonderful fantasy. I wish I had the time to game every day for a week, RPG game that is. I'm pretty sure that I could find a way to fit in a game a day if I really tried. It's just that the gaming would include things like Solitaire/Patience and a couple of quick Dice based games from Reiner Knizia's essential book of dice games. As for role playing games, that would be impossible...or would it?

I'd have the friends/family I gamed with rotate the GM role when it's needed.

Here's what I imagine I'd be playing during this mythical week of a game a day.

1) The Prince Valiant Role Playing Game.

Have 10 minutes and a small pile of quarters? Then you can learn to play this game and get playing.

The Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game is a fantastic starter RPG and it's one that I'd like to play a little bit more. The "Pokemon Emergency" box set comes with a complete mini-campaign.

3) Chill

Quick and easy, this game can be played straight out of the box and the very simple introductory adventure allows for a lot of role playing while also making it easy for the novice game master to run.

4) Home by Jim Pinto

The rule book is 32 short pages, all it requires is a deck of regular playing cards, and it's the first in Jim Pinto's very thematic and dramatic Protocol series of games. I'd love to play a few of these with my group, and a game fest like this would be the perfect opportunity. Oh, and I'd have the US version published with the Spanish cover.

5) Arena of Khazan by Ken St. Andre

C'mon, there is no way I'm getting a group of gamers over every day to play and Ken St. Andre's Arena of Khazan is one of the best, and most replayable, solo dungeons ever written.

6) DC Heroes by Mayfair Games

In order to expedite play, and get straight to the action, I'd use the "Exposed" starter adventure included in the 2nd edition boxed set. It's a commentary on reality tv culture, in the case of the adventure of Geraldo Rivera, but it is surprisingly topical. It's also funny, has a great mix of heroes, and ends up with a smashingly fun free for all.

7) Tails of Equestria 

A family friendly role playing game designed by the creator of the Mordheim skirmish miniature game? Yes please! This game is wonderfully easy to pick up and play and has a core mechanic that inspires creative thinking. It's also a great first game to GM.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

CHILL 1st Edition is an Underrated RPG. #RPGaDAY2017 -- Day 5

You are about to enter the world of CHILL, where unknown things sneak, and crawl, and creep, and slither in the darkness of a moonless night. This is the world of horror, the world of the vampire, ghost, and ghoul, the world of things not know, and best not dreamt of. CHILL is a role-playing game of adventure into the Unknown and your first adventure is about to begin -- CHILL Introductory Folder

 "What RPG Cover Best Captures the Spirit of the Game?"

For me, the answer to that question has always been CHILL by Pacesetter. It's a highly underrated game that captures the tone of my favorite horror films, those of Hammer Studios.

In 1984 a group of former TSR Employees -- including Mark Acres, Troy Denning, and Stephen Sullivan -- formed Pacesetter Ltd. Games and released the Chill role playing game. Chill wasn't the first horror role playing game, nor was it the best, but it has long held a place as a "cult" favorite in the role playing game world. Where other horror role playing games sought to capture the dark nihilistic material horror of H.P. Lovecraft, or the gruesome horror of many films, Chill tried to capture the tone of Hammer and AIP productions.

Because of its focus, and because its creators were former TSR employees, Rick Swan reviewed the game quite negatively in Dragon magazine and in his Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games. He described the game as, "A horror game for the easily frightened...While most of Chill's vampires, werewolves, and other B-movie refugees wouldn't scare a ten-year-old, they're appropriate to the modest ambitions of the game...Chill is too shallow for extended campaigns, and lacks the depth to please anyone but the most undemanding players. For beginners only."

Swan was correct that the game was simple, and appropriate for beginners, but he was far from the mark when he claimed that it lacked depth that could appeal to demanding players who want extended campaigns. The game has solid underlying mechanics that encourage a loose style of play that encourages storytelling over combat and reduces the dependency on die rolls that so many role playing games often overly promote. Like many Pacesetter games, Chill is innovative and slightly ahead of its time -- nowhere is this more the case than with their Chill: Black Morn Manor board game -- but like many things ahead of their time there are some flaws to the mechanics. Nothing too big, but definitely things that might make some gamers reject it out of hand. The game is simple enough that a group of players can pick up the rules and start to play within 15 minutes...from scratch.

Let me repeat that. This game, made in 1984, is easy enough to learn that a group can open the box and begin playing within fifteen minutes. Given how complex rpgs seem to the non-gamer, this is quite a marvelous achievement in and of itself.

The most comprehensive review of Chill -- during its era -- was the review in Space Gamer 75 by Warren Spector. In the article, Spector provided a balanced review -- not all of it positive -- but described the game as follows:

You won't find better, more consistently entertaining writing in any set of game rules...
Chill is the first to include an introductory folder advising players to begin playing that adventure before they've read the rules of the game! To begin, players have only to read a four page READ-ME-FIRST! introduction to the rules, pick up the 16-page adventure booklet and begin playing! And, sure enough, the cockamamie scheme works!

Spector's final word on the game is that it "falls somewhat short of the mark," but his analysis is clear and he seems to understand that he is looking at something new here.

There are many games from the 80s that -- mechanically and tonally -- seem extremely dated by modern gaming standards. Chill -- the first Pacesetter edition -- isn't one of them. It has a kind of classic feel to it, just like all the Hammer and AIP movies it was inspired by. It isn't a dark and serious horror game, but it is an adventurous one. If you want to experience existential horror, you can do no better than Call of Cthulhu, but if you want to pretend to be Peter Cushing's Van Helsing hunting Christopher Lee's Dracula you want Chill.

A hand touched his face, but he felt no warmth of human reassurance in that other hand, no sense of comradeship against the dark foes of the night. Boulton shrank from the touch. Then scrambled back. Then shouted. For now he could see the hand, rising like a pale, icy plant, from the churning soil of a grave. -- Chill Campaign Book