16 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #16

What RPG do you enjoy using as it is?

The last RPG I used as is, in a campaign setting, was Pathfinder...I didn't enjoy it.

The last RPG I used as is, in a one-shot, was Dungeon World...despite being driven by the Apocalypse engine, I did enjoy it.

But as I said in the last entry, I don't enjoy using many RPGs as they stand. I'll always try them at least once to see how they're "meant to work", but inevitably I feel the need to start tinkering.

RPGaDay2017 #15

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I have trouble playing anything straight (which is basically going to screw up my answer for #16 as well). When it comes to adapting games, I usually streamline things when I play them, forgetting a lot of rules unless they are really necessary to the specific situation being resolved...and even then I might just tweak the rules a bit to make things more story focused than mechanically focused.

I like the idea of using a central mechanism of play (which is why I liked the videos mentioned in my last post), and if I think one of the offshoot mechanisms of a game is just too unwieldy, I just shift everything back to that central concept.

I guess I enjoy adapting the various incarnations of D&D, because there is so much to adapt in them...so many mechanisms to strip out, so many fiddly bits to ignore. White Wolf's World of Darkness stuff is similar in this regard.

Other than that, I love adapting and modifying my own game systems. Running them a couple of times in a convention format with a few completely different groups of players, then tweaking them before going through the cycle again with a completely different group of players. The cycle iterates, and I never quite get it perfect, because my ideas of perfection continually evolve, but it's a fun journey.

So currently, I have the most enjoyment adapting The Law.

Core Mechanics

+Paul Stefko has started producing a series of podcasts/vlogs called "Core Mechanics".

The episodes are quick, simple, and provide a basic overview of fundamental systems in a range of games. At the time of writing, he's got five of these episodes available and I can't wait to see where he goes next.

It's similar to what I tried a few years ago here on the blog with my "Game Mechani(sm) of the Week" series, so it is i teresting to see someone else's take on the subject matter.

I suspect future episodes will focus on "Fate" and the "Powered by the Apocalypse" engine, but in that latter case it will be interesting to see whether he assumes the core mechanic as the dialogue of alternating MC-move/player-move in a narrative framework (kind of like the way he describes investigation in the Gumshoe games as a non-dice oriented phenomenon, as compared to the rolling of dice associated with other skills...which is considered a non-core idea)...or if he'll focus on the "roll 2d6, add modifiers, compare to chart of 6-or-below/7-9/10-or-above" which ends up heading in all sorts of directions depending on the specific move taken.

Anyway, go over and have a look. Subscribe. I want to see him do more of these... He might even get around to doing one of my games once the big games have been dealt with.

14 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #14

What RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Another question that excludes a few examples while leaving a massive assortment of other options to choose from.

A lot of games designed as one-shots, or games that tell a single story repetitively aren't really good answers here, but it would be interesting to see systems like this challenged beyond their intended confines. I do prefer a well structured but robust system that can handle a variety of situations without breaking for this style of play.

Perhaps a better way to answer this might be to consider the games that I have successfully used for this style of play. The problem is that when I run long term games, I tend to throw away most of the system, only using the bits I need when I need them...that might be a magic system I like, or the inevitable combat mechanisms when things escalate to the point where they can't be avoided any longer. If a game can let things simmer nicely, then step up to the challenge when we need to do something funky, then that works for me.

One of the longest campaigns I've ever run was a globetrotting Werewolf the Apocalypse game...lasting through weekly sessions for almost two years... more than 20 years ago. I'd do it again, but maybe with a variety of shifter types.

Actually, now that I think about it further, I don't think the rule systems are the mediating factor for what makes a good long term play experience, I think it's more about the richness of setting. That doesn't necessarily mean high word count, but good touchstones that can prompt coherent story. The whole coherent bit is where I rule out Rifts, even if it does have a metric-buttload of sourcebooks. 

I've done long form Legend of the Five Rings, and would similarly do it again because I love the depth of the setting.

I'd love to play a long term Castle Falkenstein campaign...

...actually it's been so long since I've done a long term campaign of anything, that I'd probably be willing to play almost anything in that format.

13 August, 2017

Image Experimentation

I've been working on some imagery for the upcoming Dispatch Guide for The Law. Trying to offer some variation on the illustrations to show a slightly different flavour for these characters, while maintaining a sense of continuity with the existing setting. 
This particular member of dispatch, in one of the Towers of Law, working away at his computer is probably what I'll be working with.

I also worked on some more diverse imagery, using photo-manipulated stock, and while I really like the way they've turned out they don't quite fit the way I'm trying to take "The Law"...maybe I'll use them for a game about bounty hunters, or undercover agents in the Sprawl.

RPGaDay2017 #13

Describe a game experience that changed the way you play.

I've seen that quite a few people have been tripped up by this question. Mostly because they already answered this when they gave their response to the 7th Day with its question about impactful sessions.

So, if I'm going to answer it differently, I think that one of the experiences that really opened my eyes to the potential of play styles was the first convention I attended back in 1994 or 95. I've tried looking it up, but since the convention collapsed pre-2000, there isn't a lot of online evidence regarding its existence.

In my home groups, I was always the default GM, so I attended the convention in the hope that I'd get the chance to play. It didn't quite work out that way, but it did work out by showing me numerous styles of GMing and learning that even the "professionals" were often making it up as they went...in fact the most professional GMs and the ones with the games in highest demand were the ones who ad-libbed and played reactionary games rather than trying to lead their players through a story.

...but that's more about which experience changed the way I thought about being a GM.

For the experience regarding play, I think the Raven's Nest game was the biggest eye-opener. This was a game incorporating miniatures and live-action in the manner of a Braunstein. There weren't enough GMs to keep everyone occupied during this game, so a lot of it ended up being a case of players telling their own stories and interacting with each other until dramatic moments when a GM finally finished with one group of players and potentially came to ours. The big lesson here was that you didn't need a GM to have immersive fun. Sometimes they just got in the way.

12 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #12

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

I seriously can't fault the people who are responding to this question with the groundbreaking artwork of Tony Diterlizzi in the Planescape books. The moment I opened one of the books in my local gaming shop (back in '94, I think the shop might have been "The Tin Soldier" or maybe "Napoleon's"), I knew I'd have to run a campaign there.

But lots of people have gone that way, so let's dig a little deeper.

The early Vampire the Masquerade stuff was really evocative, in the sense that you were seeing mean bad-ass brooding types, and this was an "awesome game where you could be a mean bad-ass too". Most of the other early World of Darkness stuff had that kind of vibe happening too... the illustrations in Werewolf were more primal and violent, the imagery from Mage was more heroic and surreal. I'm not going to get into the debate about whether the games themselves actually supported this style of play, because today's question is about the art... and whether you found that art inspiring.

Then there are the beautiful books that I really wanted to be inspired by, but they just felt like they were trying too hard. A specific case in point was Nobilis, I wanted to love it, and I know there are fanatical devotees of the game, but it just didn't do anything for me. Perhaps I'd already played Amber and Changeling: the Dreaming, and this just felt like a pretentious hybrid of those.

I was going to instantly dismiss any game that used predominantly photographical imagery, because most of them are licensed properties simply using screenshots from the TV-show/movie from which they derive. If I'm inspired by those images, they probably inspire because of their context, and they probably inspired me more when I saw them screened as a part of the show. I will make a notable exception for +Josh T Jordan's Heroine though. Even though I found the rules of the game to be a bit to abstract and simplistic for my tastes, flicking through the book made me want to tweak the rules a bit and play a session or two.

Dispatch Guide WIP

The GM in The Law is called Dispatch, they are the central communications hub for the agents of the law in the local area, they have an overview of the situation and a perspective that agents simply can't have in the narrow alleys and dark shadows of the sprawl.

I've been working on a Dispatch Guide as quickly as possible, to help flesh out some concepts in the game and make it a bit smoother to run.

Here's a sneak review of the first part of the guide.  

11 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #11

Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

A few years ago, I'd have said "Mutant Chronicles" or "The Classic World of Darkness" but both of them have been redone to varying degrees of success. The same with many of the other properties I've wanted to see redone and modernised. Nephilim has been done, iterations of Dr Who, Star Wars and Star Trek... even L5R is seeing a new version soon. 

Fantasy Flight Games have bought a lot of the game settings I'd like to see reborn, but they have a nasty tendency to make games that are far too expensive, often too fiddly compared to their originals, and often striped away of a lot of their original character.

I'd love to see Rackham's confrontation setting of Aarklash reborn, even through a rebirth of the Cadwallon RPG, but since FFG have it, I don't hold a whole lot of hope for it.

That's one of the reasons why I've been trying to revisit the rules and similar types of settings in many of the games I've been developing over the years.

RPGaDay2017 #10

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

I usually don't have a lot of time to play games... well, more accurately, I have periods when I've got heaps of time to play games, but trying to find a regular gaming group who are willing to try new things has been problematic over the last couple of years.

That means I see playtests come through, product launches happen, actual play reports appear, and even hacks manifest, turning into new games entirely as the process cycles through iterations of development and evolution.

It also means that by the time I get around to purchasing or playing a game it's often no longer "the new hotness", so there have been ample opportunities for reviews good and bad to come through, and if a game proves to be a one-gimmick shtick I see the hipster fanaticism die down before I waste my time and effort on it.

On the negative side, I often miss some really good and innovative games that only get limited runs.

I guess the answer to this question is basically that I don't go anywhere for my reviews, I typically let the reviews come to me via various forms of social media. If enough positive reviews come through, and the buzz around a game lasts long enough, I go and find a copy for myself.

10 August, 2017

I guess I need to finish it

There's a new index of independent RPGs going around...and I'm surprised to actually be included in it this time. It's called Fictioneers.net, and on further investigation it has been around since 2014.

I'm on the index because of my game El Casador, which I never got around to finishing for a few specific reasons. One of those reasons was wanting it to be completely numberless, because that was the challenge I was a part of when designing it... a second reason was trying to develop a card based AI system for the monsters in the game. The AI system just frustrated me and so I abandoned it. I've thought about it a few times since then, but not much has ever come from those thoughts. One day a breakthrough will probably come, and one day I'll be happy with it.

...but for the moment it will probably be quicker just to add a gew more of my finished games to the Fictioneers listing.

RPGaDay2017 #9

What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

This is a bit like the last one, where a lot of games instantly rule themselves out because they are specifically designed as one-shots, or for very short story arcs, but for the rest of the RPGs out there it's more a case of who your players are, and who your GM is.

I like the idea of a game with a distinct beginning, middle and end. But I know a lot of people who are always striving for that epic game that lasts for years and years. 5 to 10 games is probably a nice length for a short to medium campaign, and I'd even consider something like D&D for it. I wouldn't start at level 1 though, I'd probably run a game where the players started at about level 4 or 5, and over the course of the game I'd allow the characters to gain 2 or 3 levels. I always found the sweet spot for 3rd Edition D&D to be around level 5 or 6, so this means our characters start at the point where the game gets a bit meatier, but the game also ends before the characters become too overpowered compared to the world around them.

If were going to run another system, I'd have to seriously consider the type of progression that occurs over a period of ten sessions. Early Warhammer Fantasy would probably be another contender, but it's a dark gritty setting... every time I've played it, we've been lucky to see characters progress through a career more than once every two or three games, and a lot of those low level careers are pretty brutal. A ten session arc in this system, starting at base level would be lethal to many of the characters, but if that's what you were going for than I could see it working.

This is actually one of those games that I'd like to have experimented with a bit more. Perhaps trying to run a game where players have a certain amount of XP under their belts, and a few career paths that they'd already traversed to become veterans. But it's always been a slog to get the that level when everyone decides that we need to start the stories with all the characters at base level. A mid level campaign of this would definitely work over a 10 session arc.

I generally think most of the long-form, campaign-oriented RPGs would work well with the 10 session game format.

RPGaDay2017 #8

I'm getting behind in these...need to catch up.

What is a good RPG to play for 2hrs or less?

Reading that question, I suddenly remember why I procrastinated on it.

All of them, none of them.

There are a few games that really can't be played in 2hrs or less. A LARP often takes a minimum of 2 hours for everyone to really starting getting into the groove. If we include character generation, then I agree with a lot of people who have suggested that many games can't even get through that in 2 hrs.

I'd say that the most consistent game I've had for sessions that short would be "A Penny for my Thoughts", with a close follow up being some of the minimalist games that project you into the action in-media-res...such as my own FUBAR. But I really don't think the aim of these questions is to continue spruiking how good your own games are to the wider world.

This one's a tough one...it does really depend on the focus of the group more than the game system in my experience.

09 August, 2017

Dispatch Guide

Enthusiasm from the early sales of The Law has meant I've started working on the Dispatch Guide. Perhaps a bit more than just started... I'm up to 24 pages written and laid out, out of a total of 32 for the book.

So far I've written tips for how a game could be run, provided ideas for how to keep things interesting, and provided tools to create new items and equipment for the game. Next I'll be focusing on random encounters and relationship maps to fill out the methods of adding depth to the setting during the course of play.

The whole thing is basically drawn from the way I've been running games at conventions for the last few years, because regardless of this system, there are certain things that seem to consistently work, and certain things that I've learnt to avoid. I'm hoping that my method of putting them into words makes sense to other people.

08 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #7

What was your most impactful RPG session?


A few good ones here.

I know I've mentioned a few of them here on the blog over the years.

There was the game which crossed Mage and Amber back in 1999, in a basement flat in the sprawl of red-brick apartments and alleyways between Darlinghurst and Kings Cross, in the shadows of Sydney's CBD. The four of us in the game ended up moving into a share house together six months later, but we never got around to finishing the game. It was a game where we never looked at a character sheet, and where the three characters were never in the same place at the same time. It was all about relationships, back before relation driven games were the "hot new thing". Our characters each knew key NPCs, and there were occasional fleeting moments when we ran across one of the others, but there was so much more happening. We also portrayed lesser characters in each other's stories because we had so little to do with one another.

I learned through this a few things...

  • that gaming doesn't need to make sense
  • that we don't need to understand everything about a story to enjoy it
  • that player knowledge and character knowledge can be very different, and maintaining difference between them can bring its own enjoyment

Another session that clearly fits was my experience with the gaming style that I've now heard referred to as a "Braunstein". That game was called Raven's Nest (I'm trying to find links for this game, but they're getting harder to find...unless written by me, or some interested parties looking for more about it). It basically combined live action play with miniatures, in a way that I've tried to emulate many times, but have never successfully achieved. 25 players at the table, all with conflicting agendas, all playing in real time with multiple GMs coordinating plots and subplots into a marvelous chaos that kind of made sense at the end... which reminds me, I really must get back to my Goblin labyrinth game.

RPGaDay2017 #6

You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do.

I've been sick over the last couple of days, and haven't really been focused enough to write up my answers, so now it's time to catch up.

"Cynical me" answers this question in one way... I spend a week trying to organise other gamers, and by the time I've gathered enough of them together to run a game, my 7 days are over.

"Non-cynical me" answers it slightly differently... This scenario probably means that I've secured my teaching position and have bought a small country property where I've converted a barn into a dedicated gaming space for epic miniature battlegames, and boardgaming. The property has also been seeded with clues, buried treasure chests, and similar. During the day, I'm coordinating a team of GMs running a series of fully immersive quests, where different groups may find themselves working with or against others... at night, boardgames and roleplaying, where the outcomes of those games feed back into the LARP sessions the following day. I like a variety of experiences in my gaming, and I've generally lost my faith in most other GMs, so I figure a week of running good games for other people is better than a week of being frustrated by other people's games.

05 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #5

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game? 

This one is tricky, because the same game can have a very different spirit depending in who is running it or who is playing in it.

I did always think that the Rifts cover captured the strangeness and gonzo factor of the setting. It wasn't necessarily horrific, and it certainly fit into the genre of teenage boy fantasy. It seemed to fit the nature of most Rifts games I was a part of...certainly more than the sourcebooks which should have been more accurate in their cover depictions because they focused on a specific concept or location in the setting.

04 August, 2017

RGaDay2017 #4

Which RPG have you played most since August 2016?

Hands down, the game I've played most in the last 12 months has been my monthly LARP, Nexus. This is true even if we did skip a few months due to bad weather, and even though I probably spend more than three-quarters of my time at each event running the proceedings.

I've been trying to step back from micro-managing things, and now that we've got a few more players willing to take on some of the responsibility in the game I might be able to do that. But between the time I've spent making props for the game, the time I've spent writing storylines, and the time actually running things out in the park, this game has taken u more of my free time than anything else.

I'll be interested to see if any changes in this regard over the next 12 months.

03 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #3

How do you find out about new RPGs?

Generally social media. Being hooked up with hundreds of gaming enthusiasts on various social media platforms means having an ear to the ground regarding games that are in development, games that are being kickstarted, and games that have just been released.

That doesn't necessarily mean I get the chance to play all the new hotness that's out there, and while I've been focused on university study over the past five years it's meant that by the time I've had the chance to get to something, a dozen new hotnesses have been and gone.

Of course it gets a bit depressing when I see dozens of people raving about a game when a prominent designer releases it, but I see only one or two people mention it in passing when an unknown designer comes up with the same ideas or concepts, a year or two earlier. Yes, I have been that designer on more than one occasion, but I've seen plenty of other great designers afflicted by the same curse.

02 August, 2017

RPGaDa2017 #2

What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Honestly, there are so many good RPGs already around. So many independent publishers putting out awesome games, and more than I'm able to play. I'm not sure how to answer this one. Reading through other people's answers I've seen some great responses, such as a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" RPG, or people who've said that they'd like to see their own work-in-progress games get published.

If I were going to follow that last tactic, I'd say that I want to see my game Walkabout properly finished and published.

I guess one of the main reasons for wanting to get Walkabout published is because I know there is a deep and wondrous spirituality in Australian Aboriginal folklore, and it's so different to what I keep seeing in Euro-centric and North America-centric settings. If I could see anyone get that right, I'd be happy.

Now on sale: The Law

Last night, I managed to upload "The Law" to my DrivethruRPG/RPGNow shopfront.

I was thankfully alerted to the fact that there were a whole heap of spelling errors on the page, due to the "p" key on my rapidly aging keyboard not working half of the time...but that's all fixed now.

I'll probably update the shopfront page with a few more images and a couple of more interesting elements of text, but for the moment it's done it's job. While I was sleeping, a copy of the game sold, and now I can purchase the "Dr Who Humble Bundle" that I referred to in yesterday's RPGADay question.

Stupidly, in my enthusiasm last night, I started working on the Dispatch Guide for the game (which, for those who haven't been following, is basically the GMs guide). The first ten pages of that basically came from the fact that I wanted to keep the whole game tightly focused as a highly illustrated 32 page "game comic"...which meant there were things I needed to cull from the rules. Most of the things culled were bits of advice that I thought would be useful for people who decided to run the game, hence using them as a basis for the second game comic.

At the moment, the gameplay feels like it works (both logically in my head, and practically in my playtest sessions), but I hope that a lot of this isn't just due to ideas in my head rather than ideas on the page. I guess this is the point where the game will hit reality without me as an intermediary, and we'll really see if it flies. The proofreaders who looked over it for me seem to think it makes sense, and I wouldn't have put it out there if I wasn't moderately confident about it.

Anyway, it's live now. If you want to support me doing more stuff like this, go and buy a copy.

01 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #1

What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

I'm watching Cloud Atlas as I write this, and I'm reminded of how badly I've seen time travel handled in numerous games. I've been wanting a good time travel game, I even tried my hand at writing a time travel game almost a decade ago. As I write this, I'm also reminded that the Humble Bundle at the moment is a collection of the Doctor Who RPG. I' really been meaning to get in on this one, but with a day or so to go, and almost a week until pay day, I might miss the chance. 

We're big Dr Who fans in this house, and having a game that covers every era of the shows very tempting, especially when I've generally been hearing good things good things about the gameplay mechanisms in this iteration of the game. 

I'm sure there are dozens of other games that I probably should be playing now, maybe Blades in the Dark, maybe an OSR retroclone, but this is the one that sits in my mind as I write this blog entry.