Showing posts with label James Bond. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Bond. Show all posts

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, April 25, 2011

J is for Justice Inc. and James Bond

Two of the -- about 6 -- game designers that I credit with helping to lift role playing games out of the ghetto of the dungeon crawl and into the world of narrative play are Aaron Allston and Greg Gorden. To this day, I still love a good dungeon crawl, but it was designers like Allston and Gorden who showed me that role playing games could be an immersive, interactive, narrative experience that would last for years. They did this by designing games that provided excellent advice for game masters and designing mechanics that fostered/supported narrative play.

I mentioned that Allston was one of the first people to review the Champions role playing game in my H is for Hero System entry. Allston was a quick convert to the system, but he also became one of its biggest promoters and one of Hero Games' better freelance game designers. His Strike Force sourcebook is one of the best super hero game campaign guides ever written, and its advice for running gaming sessions/campaigns are valuable for game masters running any gaming system. In 1984, Aaron Allston and Mike Stackpole (who had also worked on Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes) joined the staff at Hero Games to design a role playing game that would allow players to experience the pulse pounding action of the pulp stories of the early 20th century. The book is nearly flawless in its presentation and design. The mechanics are clearly presented and are able to simulate the wide array of stories that were featured in the pulps.

But the greatest asset of Justice Inc. isn't the rules, it is the Justice Inc. Campaign Book. This booklet is a fantastic collection of essays that discuss how to run a role playing game campaign. The book covers everything from Crimefighting, Espionage, Action and Horror to Spicy Stories and Science Fiction. It truly covers the pulps as a whole and doesn't get caught up in the erroneous mindset that pulp only equals "The Shadow" or "The Spider." Those are great characters, to be sure, but the pulps include Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, H.P. Lovecraft and others. The stories run the gamut of genre, and Allston and Stackpole know their stuff. The advice in this 80 page book belongs in any game master's library.

Especially useful are the "Secrets of Successful Gamemastering" listed on pages 6 and 7. The list is short, but it cuts right to the point. The list is as follows:

1) A Gamemaster is an entertainer.
2) Be fair.
3) Be firm and consistent.
4) Be flexible.
5) Use dramatic license.

It was the first rule on that list which was mind-blowing to me when I first read it. It was a direct argument against the "DM is God" mentality that was prevalent during the early era of role playing games. It put the onus on the GM not to just "challenge" the players, or to crush them at a whim, but instead to make sure that the players are having fun. To quote the discussion after the rule, "The thrill of discover, the heart-pounding moments of suspense, and the laughs from humor beat the hell out of the drudgeries of constant warfare and treasure harvesting." It is a mantra that I have tried to live up to for years. Sometimes -- as is the case with some of my 4e sessions -- I fail, but I think that my Eberron players have had some pretty good times and have some stories to share.

Rising up from the ashes of the acquisition of SPI by TSR in the early 1980s, Victory Games -- made up of former SPI employees -- released the James Bond 007 role playing game in 1983. After TSR had purchased SPI, TSR largely ignored SPI titles and it seemed that the acquisition had more to do with limiting competition than acquiring useful IP. Ironically, it was the Lorraine Williams era of TSR that re-released a lot of the neglected SPI titles. But if TSR had never purchased SPI, then Victory Games would never have been created and it is possible -- just possible -- that the James Bond 007 game would never have been designed and that would be a shame.

Gerard Christopher Klug is credited with "Game Design, Development, and Project Coordination," but anyone who is familiar with the old SPI/Avalon Hill system of designing games knows that it is likely Gregory Gorden and Neil Randall (credited as "system development") who did the bulk of the innovative work on this project. Those who are familiar with Greg Gorden's other work -- DC Heroes, Deadlands, Torg, Star Wars and a host of other games -- can see his influence all over the place.

There is a lot to like in James Bond 007. It has an easy to use rules system and some of the best adventures ever written for any game, but the contribution that altered the way that I viewed role playing games -- and informs my sentiments against "roll a skill check for everything" or "If the player doesn't know/ask it then they don't know/can't find out" mentalities of many GMs -- was their Fields of Experience mechanic. You see, in the world of James Bond, there are some things that the characters just know, and Gorden and crew came up with a system to emulate it. It isn't anything fancy, but it was revolutionary then -- and is still revolutionary as Robin Laws' Gumshoe system demonstrates for modern gamers. Put briefly, "There are no dice rolls involved when a character uses a Field of Expertise in play. He either knows the information required or how to perform the task, or he does not. A Field of Expertise will always fall into one of two categories -- information and performance." The GM notes go into even greater detail about Fields of Knowledge recommending that GMs use mechanics to step in to help when players don't ask questions.

A lot of "mystery" adventures bog down in rpgs because the players fail a roll, or fail to "look under every nook and cranny of a room." In the world of James Bond, if the character had the Forensics or Cryptography Field of Knowledge that was enough to keep the ball rolling. Give the clues. Don't interpret them for the players, but let them have the information themselves. Sometimes, their own interpretations end up being better than your original idea and can take adventures down entertaining paths. This was the kind of play recommended by James Bond 007, and it was so different from the puzzle-deathtraps -- like Tomb of Horrors -- of other games that it changed the way I play forever.

Both of these games are sadly out of print, but you can find them at fairly affordable prices on eBay. I cannot praise them highly enough.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Finding Neverland Director to Helm Bond 22

Coming on the heels of Martin Campbell's redefinition of the Bond character in Casino Royale, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction) will be directing the next Bond film. The 22nd installment of the franchise will also see the return of Daniel Craig in the starring role.

Initially, the choice of Forster to direct the new film may seem an odd one, but I think it might be a further step in the right direction. While Campbell's Casino Royale was one of my favorite Bond films in years, I think that had more to do with the inclusion of Alexander Witt as the Second Unit Director than it did with any input Campbell had as Director. Casino's strengths were in the action and Craig's acting, and not in the subtle direction of small scenes.

Let us ask the question the following way. Please allow for the underlying assumptions (the "given" statements) for the sake of the argument, even if you disagree.

  1. GIVEN: That Casino Royale was one of the best James Bond films ever made.

  2. GIVEN: The Bourne Identity was a key film in the redefinition of the spy film genre.

  3. GIVEN: One of the things that made Casino Royale so entertaining was the way the action sequences awed the audience.

  4. GIVEN: Martin Campbell directed Goldeneye, Vertical Limit, and No Escape in addition to two Zorro films without Alexander Witt as Second Unit Director.

  5. GIVEN: The above films had wide range of quality, from good to bad.

  6. GIVEN: Goldeneye has a very different "feel" than Casino Royale

  7. GIVEN: Alexander Witt was Second Unit Director on Black Hawk Down, The Bourne Identity, Gladiator, Black Rain, and Speed.

  8. GIVEN: The action sequences in the listed Alexander Witt films have certain stylistic similarities that contributed to the entertainment value of those films.

  9. GIVEN: Casino Royale had a "Bournesque" feel to a lot of the action.

  10. THUS: Alexander Witt had a lot to do with what was entertaining about Casino Royale

With all of the above in mind, I think that bringing in a director who has directed some very entertaining (non-action based) films in the past is a way that the Bond films could improve. But only if they hire the right Second Unit Director.