Thursday, August 31, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

RPGaDay 2018, obviously.


I don't have any idea of what will be published in 2018, so I'll answer this is a vaguely aspirational New Year's resolution kind of way.

I'm looking forward to Ni No Kuni 2 on consoles and in finding a regular group again.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 30: What RPG Genre Mash-Up Would You Most Like to See?

What RPG Genre Mash-Up Would You Most Like to See?

Hmmm…Steampunk, zombies and a wood chipper.

And stay out of my pop culture!

Almost anything worth mashing up has been done. Most RPGs not laser-focused on a single property have advice for mashing up genres.  We’ve done all the peanut butter and chocolate combinations. The only matches left to make are orange juice and toothpaste.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 29: What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

I’ve had a lot of luck with RPG Kickstarters. Almost all of them have been very successful. I’m still waiting on that PDF from the Invincible Overlord Project, but most of them have been delivered on time and meeting or exceeding expectations.

The Unknown Armies and the Delta Green kickstarters were each solid, but Lords of Gossamer and Shadow takes the prize. They had a very clear understanding of what they wanted to do and a practical and rigorous business plan to get there. They even tracked down my dinky little review. They sent out regular updates and had a strong presence on social media and engaged regularly with the fan base.  After Steven Russell (one of the creators) died unexpectedly his widow stepped up in what must have been a time of unimaginable grief to see the project through to its conclusion. I can’t imagine that level of dedication through that level of pain.

Monday, August 28, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

In my old high school group, it would have been Holy Grail, but that was a long time ago. These days, it's probably Aliens or the Princess Bride. If we're including the BSing that goes on at the table, then it's probably the Princess Bride. If we want to limit it to out of character commentary on in-game events, then Aliens has the edge.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 27:What are Your Essential Tools for Good Gaming?

What are Your Essential Tools for Good Gaming?

Just one. Time. I'm a very slow writer and I take forever to do anything. I need to turn it over in my head over the course of days to refine a concept. If I have that time, I can make something memorable. If I can't, then I've got to depend on the players to spin straw into gold.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 26: What RPG provides the most useful resources?

What RPG provides the most useful resources?

I suppose there are two ways to approach this question. We can either look at the game itself  in a vacuum or we can look at it in the context of the community that has arisen around it.

I'm going to do the latter. Again, I've got to give this to Dungeons & Dragons. It's got the biggest fan base and it's got the oldest one. Nothing else today compares with the scale of Dungeons & Dragons.

For the game itself, special mention goes to the 1st edition DMG. I loved that book because it was so chock full of inspiration. Medicinal herbs, Gary Gygax's random musings, guidelines for wilderness adventures, comics from Dragon magazine, pictures of naked mermaids, all of it thrown together with no particular rhyme or reason. Where else are you going to find something like this?

"I've got a +2 against slovenly trulls!"

Friday, August 25, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

What is the best way to thank your GM?

Show up and be engaged. That doesn’t mean no pregame chit-chat, goofing off and movie quoting at all, because that’s part of the fun of getting together with your friends, but rather that you should be ready to play at the designated time. Your GM put in a lot of time prepping for the game and the best way to reward that effort is to play the game and respect the hours that went into getting everything ready.  I’d rather have someone skip the session entirely rather than showing up and wanting to be somewhere else.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 24: Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

This is quite a niche question! To the best of my recollection, I have only ever purchased one PWYW item, and it was the Double Dragon Neon soundtrack by Jake Kaufman. You can get it here. I really enjoyed the game and a large part of the enjoyment was from the soundtrack. I think I could have gotten it for free, but I like his work and I want him to make more of it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 23: Which RPG Has the Most Jaw-Dropping Layout?

Which RPG Has the Most Jaw-Dropping Layout?

This isn't the kind of thing I notice. I'm sure there's a comic book RPG out there with some clever layout designed to emulate a comic book, but I’m happy with two columns and the occasional sidebar. I use these books as reference books for the game and as long as they’re readable, with no White Wolf runic scribbles beneath the text, I’m pretty much fine with whatever.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 22: What RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

What RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

Probably the Amber Diceless RPG, for three reasons.

1.) I'm very familiar with the source material.
2.) As the name suggests, it's diceless. The resolution system is a combination of comparing relevant attributes and GM fiat.
3.) There is heavy emphasis on interaction between the players, so I don't have to do all the heavy lifting.

Monday, August 21, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 21:Which RPG Does the Most with the Least Words

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 21:Which RPG Does the Most with the Least Words

I...have no idea. Probably one of those old-timey Steve Jackson Games games in the little plastic cases.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Seems Legit

From my email. I think I'm going to help this guy out. I just don't like people taking advantage of seniors like this. 

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 20: What is the Best Source for Out-of-Print RPGs?

What is the Best Source for Out-of-Print RPGs?

Best is certainly relative here, as there are a number of options, but they each have their own drawbacks.

eBay (or increasingly for me, third-party sellers on Amazon) is an option, but I miss the days of the Wild West, when it seemed like you could stumble upon all sorts of treasures as people liquidated their collections. Now it's just a bunch of resellers and storefronts for small businesses.

The quarter bins at cons are great, but the few conventions I attend these days tend to be narrowly-focused and only feature tabletop gaming peripherally and the composition of the vendors reflects that.

Still, I'll always treasure that copy of Brave New World I picked up at I-Con. If I had looked more closely, I would have realized that I was not buying a copy of Underground as I thought I was.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 19: Which RPG Features the Best Writing?

Which RPG Features the Best Writing?

I wasn't sure quite how to interpret this one. Are they asking for a comment on the quality of how the prose conveys the mood, or are they asking how cleanly it articulates the rules for the reader?

Either way, I'm going to give it to the Unknown Armies team, with Delta Green (which has many of the same team members) close behind. UA has all these gonzo concepts, but there is never any question about how to implement them mechanically. Also, each game has a ton of vividly realized NPCs, and the writing really brings them to life.

Friday, August 18, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 18: Which RPG Have You Played the Most in Your Life?

Which RPG Have You Played the Most in Your Life?

Check me out! I’m one-percenter! (In the sense that I’m not in the 99% who will answer some edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (It’s probably not actually 99%, as I’m sure that a bunch of gamers who came of age in the 1990s will answer Vampire: The Masquerade, but it’s certainly going to be the majority.)

My answer is my own Play-By-Email game, the Mazeworks. It was founded on June 9th, 2001 in Yahoo groups. We had a database failure and then we started in the MazeworksII group in November of 2001. I actually considered just folding the game at that point and just walking away, because we would lose so much. Yahoo eventually restored what we had lost, but it was easier to stay at the second group.

I considered folding the group again in 2006 when I knew my daughter would be born. I didn’t think I’d have the time to keep up with the game, but another player convinced me not to. His name is Bob. More on him later.

PBEMs typically flounder after a while, but we bucked the odds, thanks to some really great players.  There were days with a hundred posts, and there was a nearly five-year span where we had at least one post every day.

It’s spawned a number of in-jokes as any long-running game will: The croquet mallet, “YOUR (sic) A LIAR!” “STOP CURSING AT ME!” I met my friend Frederick through the game. I made a number of friends whom I’ll probably never meet. One of them, the incomparable Bob from earlier in the post, handcrafted a beautiful rocking horse and shipped it at his own expense for Lily’s second Christmas.

We finally wrapped up the game in 2012. We had just come to the resolution of a major arc. I was out of ideas and I said so. I didn’t want to run on fumes and I decided we should go out on a high note. I asked everyone who was willing to pen their own epilogue to the series. To this day, I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding role-playing.

The players didn’t want to let it go, so one of them took over and put his own spin on it. I was a player this time, and that worked out. I wanted the Mazeworks to continue; I just didn’t have the passion to drive it anymore.

We played for a few months with Jason M. running the show until he passed away unexpectedly.  I liked Jason so much. I hoped someday to meet him. Who else shared my weird interests of PBEM’s, Roger Zelazny and Robyn Hitchcock. He was a stabilizing influence on the group and such a downright decent guy. I miss him and I’m sorry he’s gone.

We didn’t want the group to end with the death of a player, so someone else stepped up and began running it. His name is Jacob and he’s still running it today. We’re not as strong as we once were, but we’re still telling stories together and I think that’s something to celebrate.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 17: Which RPG Have You Owned the Longest But Not Played?

Which RPG Have You Owned the Longest But Not Played?

My first thought was Star Frontiers, but I think I played that in the third grade when I lived in Florida. There were a couple kids with whom I gamed, including one with the extremely unfortunate last name of “Lust”. I’m pretty sure we played the introductory adventure from the introductory boxed set during a sleepover.

Young Josh must have been quite the fan of Tom Moldvay, because he went directly from Star Frontiers to Avalon Hill’s Lords of Creation.  I think I picked this up at K-B Toy and Hobby. In the early 80s they would often offer unsold RPGs at a steep discount. I bought a lot of Dark Sun that way.

I liked the setting and the concept of LoC and the stories that you could potentially tell with it, but even at twelve years old, I recognized that the rules as written were not a good set of tools for implementing those stories. Likewise, Omegakron is an ambitious but flawed adventure.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 16: Which RPG Do You Enjoy Using As Is?

 Which RPG Do You Enjoy Using As Is?

"All of them, Katie!"

This follows from question #15 and my answer is largely the same. I generally don’t feel the need to mod games anymore. I’m generally pretty lazy and modding a game is a bit of work. To the extent that I tweak things, it’s to streamline them. If I don’t feel like looking up the grappling rules and if nothing huge is hinging on the outcome, I’ll just take a guess and apply my best guess to the situation. Or, if I’m at the end of the session and we all want to get it over with, I’ll sometimes skim over the mechanics and eyeball the dice rolls in order to wrap things, but I don’t think that’s what the question is asking.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 15: Which RPG Do You Enjoy Adapting the Most?

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I guess I’m going to give another non-answer. I don’t do this anymore.  There was a time when I would create rules for lightsabers and Jedi in my composition notebooks and everyone who was alive in the 1990s made up rules for playing a Highlander style immortal in White Wolf’s World of Darkness.

But these days there are so many licensed properties that there is no need to do this unless you're absolutely infatuated with a system. I know there are Savage Worlds fans out there who want to use it to launch a satellite into orbit, but I'm a big fan of allowing the setting to shape the system, and you don't get that if you try to fit your Avatar the Last Airbender-shaped peg into a Unisystem-shaped hole.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 14: Which RPG Do You Prefer for Open-Ended Campaign Play

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

I tend not to prefer sandbox games these days. When my last day of high school ended, I walked over to my friend’s house and we continued our second edition D&D game right where we left off last session. That was a nice rambling game. There were weeks where we would play at least once a day over the summer. If somebody had a game he wanted to run, he’d take over as DM for a session or two and we’d run our characters through his adventure. We were the stereotypical band of murder hobos and that campaign lasted for years.

That said, I don’t like that playstyle as much anymore. I’m old and I don’t have as much leisure time and as any adult gamer will tell you, coordinating a time when the entire group is free is a nightmare. I like my adventure paths with a distinct ending point so we can enjoy telling a story together.

If I had to choose a particular RPG, I’d go with some pre-third edition iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. It just seems suited to that wandering adventurer lifestyle. When the campaign ends and all the players go their separate ways, I like to think that our characters have more adventures without us.

Monday, August 14, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 13: Describe a Game Experience That Changed How You Play

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 13: Describe a Game Experience That Changed How You Play

It's from the Amber Diceless RPG. Character questionnaires have been around forever. "Why did your character leave home?" "What kind of relationship does your character have with his family?" That kind of thing. The ADRPG certainly didn't invent this sort of question. They did it better than I
had seen it before, with questions like: "What do you find boring that others enjoy?"When you were young, you used to arm wrestle with an old friend of your fathers - and you always lost. After an absence of ten years, the friend has returned, looking much older and weaker. He/she challenges you to a wrestle. You know that you can win. What do you do?" or "A friend proudly shows you a painting that he/she has inherited. You know that he/she is not going to sell the painting, but will keep it for his/her own pleasure. You also know that the painting is a fake. What do you do?"

The question that sticks with me, and which I include in all character quizzes in games I run is "Where does your character get the laundry done?" I love that because I had never thought to ask that question, but it grounds characters in such a unique fashion. You may be playing this angry, shouting demigod, but even he has to launder his loincloth once in a while. I like that it causes players to examine aspects of their character's lives that they would have never otherwise considered.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 12: Which RPG Has the Most Inspiring Interior Art?

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 12: Which RPG Has the Most Inspiring Interior Art?

Probably Nobilis, second edition. The big white "coffee table" book. The art isn't my favorite, but it's the perfect fit for the grand, absurd mythic setting of Nobilis.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 11: Which "Dead" Game Would You Like to See Reborn?

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 11: Which "Dead" Game Would You Like to See Reborn?

This is an easy one for me and it's even thematically appropriate. All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

I first discovered AFMBE in a Yahoo Group (remember those?) dedicated to horror RPGs in the early 2000s. They had a pretty robust publishing schedule, putting out a sourcebook every six months or so, which wasn't bad because Eden Studios was essentially just George Vasilakos and a couple freelancers.

They had the core game and supplements for zombies in the Pulp era, the future, medieval times, WWI, pirates, professional wrestling (!!) you name it. They got there before zombies became completely played out. Their unisystem was built from the ground up to support zombie games, but it also worked well (as the name would suggest) as a universal system.

It was a great game and a lot of fun and I'd like to see more of it.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 10: Where Do You Go for RPG Reviews?

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 10: Where Do You Go for RPG Reviews?

I would have said ten years ago, but these days I seldom have cause to seek out RPG reviews.
I mostly ask friends or google the game. There are plenty of reviews out there and I haven't found any one site substantially better than others.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 9: What is a Good RPG to Play For About 10 Sessions?

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 9: What is a Good RPG to Play For About 10 Sessions?

Potentially any of them. It's easier to tell certain types of light-hearted science fantasy using the Doctor Who ruleset, where the rules are designed to enforce the setting, but there is nothing preventing you from retelling Hamlet in Space with the Mechwarrior rules.

To steal a line from a Wrinkle in Time: Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.

On some level, I reject the validity of the questions. You can play just about anything in ten sessions. It all depends on the story you want to tell.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 8: What is a Good RPG to Play for Session 2 Hours or Less

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 8: What is a Good RPG to Play for Session 2 Hours or Less?

Puppetland would be an obvious answer. The First Rule: An hour is golden, but it is not an hour:
A tale of PUPPETLAND can last no more than an hour. The caveat is that Puppetland is hardly widely played. So let's skip that as an edge case.

There are two circumstances where I like to have short sessions. The first is for comedy games like Toon.

This is a fun game, just ask Gaw, Bob Dole and the armadillo with a Winnebago, but I wouldn't want to spend all day playing it. Brevity = wit and that goes double for dedicated comedy games. All that absurdity gets exhausting after a while. Two hours is just about right for Toon.

The other time I like to run short sessions is right before the campaign begins. I don't always get the opportunity, but I like to meet with players one on one to get a feel for how the characters will act in actual play. We have a brief adventure or just a slice of life session and that tends to work out well for me.

Friday, August 11, 2017

[Zelazny] Galaxy Science Fiction scanned into Internet Archive

About a year and a half go, Worlds of If magazine was scanned into the Internet Archive. Now the feat has been repeated with Galaxy Science Fiction. The collection isn't complete, but it contains several classic Zelazny stories, including Damnation Alley.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 7: What Was Your Most Impactful RPG Session

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 7: What Was Your Most Impactful RPG Session?

This is from my old Mazeworks Play-By-Email Game. One of the characters, Nigel Taylor-Smythe, had been brought it to supervise the PCs. He was kind of an internal affairs officer from the magical organization to which Trent Capricornus, one of the PCs belonged. Think Ed Exley meets Wesley from Buffy.

Nigel was a bright, enthusiastic uncompromising go-getter who could never live up to his father's deeds. However, the senior  Taylor-Smythe was secretly a villain, involved in the blackest arts imaginable. After his death, his cohorts had his skull rendered down into a magical artifact, and this allowed him to influence the world through his old magical, and they saw to it that Nigel the younger come into possession of this cane. The skull would offer the uncertain young mage aid and guidance during a difficult mission and would eventually lead him down the path to damnation.

This scene is from the end of the campaign. Nigel's father has been discovered and is ready to destroy the heroes. Nigel doesn't know what to do..
Trent becomes slightly shaken at the mention of Tanelorn. He wants to question the
creature, but knows he can not.
"I've walked the fine line of life and death for a long time, foul one. I've met Death. Not a bad guy. Definitely not someone to be afraid of." He takes a quick moment to see how  Nigel the younger is holding up. "We are going to have to cooperate now, you know."
Nigel does not answer. He is reevaluating everything he has ever believed.
 [Trent] will call forth elemental fire and direct it at the cane, the hottest, purest flame he can muster.
Ibis, not paralyzed by the skull, joins in too, blasting rainbow fire from his staff towards the cane. The resulting counterstroke of red lightning almost consumes both men. In an instant, the temperature in the room rises ten degrees. Nigel doesn't stir.

Nigel Taylor-Smythe IV is a man who aspired to the ideal of his father. He studied harder, pushed himself further than any other mage of his generation. He was ruthless in his climb to the top, rationalizing that once he achieved this impossible goal, anything he had done in its pursuit of would be justified.. And now, Trent wants him to turn his powers on his father's cane and his father's skull, destroying everything he had worked for.

Nigel must realize that it is not too late. Throw in with his father. Return to the Council as if nothing had happened. Destroy the traitor, who resisted too strenuously when being detained. Devise pretty lies to cover the trail. Or waver and be destroyed.

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

Even with combined efforts of Mister Ibis and Trent, the cane is destroying them, beating them, rending their flesh, tearing their minds. Trent is faced with the absurd realization that he's about to be killed by a fashion accessory.

Nigel sees none of this. As an educated man he is familiar with The Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn. There is a passage in the book that never made sense to him. Huck was contemplating a letter he had just written, to turn in his friend Jim, the escaped slave, as was his duty. Huck had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that doing so was his duty as a good Christian (and as a good, law-abiding American). He had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that failing to do so would damn his soul to Hell.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
"All right, then, I'll go to Hell" -- and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. ... And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be damned for eternity -- and what are a few mortal years compared with that? The choice never made any sense to Nigel, up until this moment.
"Of course," he breathes, as a massive weight falls from his shoulders. He raises his arm and joins his strength to Trent's.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 6: You Can Game Every Day for a Week. Describe What You'd Do

You Can Game Every Day for a Week. Describe What You'd Do

Sorry for the delay. I kind of fell of the face of the earth for a couple days, but I had a serious medical issue. I'll do two of these posts a day until I catch up.

I think I would want to have two groups working in opposition. Figure one group of Closers in a Lonesome October game and a second group of Openers.

Each group would play for a couple hours and then return to a situation altered by the actions of the other. Could be great if done right.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 5: Which RPG Cover Best Captures the Spirit of the Game?

Which RPG Cover Best Captures the Spirit of the Game?

Over at Gnomies, Eric said that this is the first question he couldn't immediately answer, whereas for me, it was the first question for which I did have a ready reply.

Why it was so easy, I've got three answers!

1.) Dungeons and Dragons Expert Rules: This image is just iconic. Emblematic of its era. You say Dungeons & Dragons and this is what I imagine. I would go so far as to say that this is the definitive image of D&D for people who started playing in the 80s.

2.) Bureau 13: This one is personal for me. I bought this at the local comic store in my mall. It was the Phil Foglio cover art that attracted my attention and the six dollar price tag that convinced me to take the chance. I love the setting, but the rules are not at all suited to the kind of stories the game seems to want to tell. To quote myself from an earlier review: "Does my free-wheeling adventure game really need rules for hydrostatic shock? Phoenix Command called. It wants its rules back."

Back in the late 90s, when I finally had consistent access to the internet, I decided to look it up and lo and behold! There was a Bureau 13 discussion group on Yahoo. Nick Pollotta and Richard Tucholka were both members and it was my first chance to interact with people who had created the stuff I loved. I eventually formed a play-by-email game with other folks from the group and it lasted for a good fifteen years.

3.) Vampire: The Masquerade: You know the cover.

The one with all the quotes from some pretentious douche Bjørn Blooddancer bellyaching about how a beast he is, lest a beast he become.

The thing is, the cover works really well in capturing that 90s Zeitgeist. White Wolf called it "Gothic Punk", and it sounds dumber the further you get away from the era, but it really worked for a good long time.