Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#RPGaDay - Day 22

Now that we're caught back up, let's keep this train a rolling.

Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

Any RPG I'm incredibly familiar with that doesn't force me to reference a massive amount of charts to run. I really enjoy running FFG's Star Wars RPG because generally speaking I only have to look up Critical Injury results when someone scores a critical hit. Otherwise I generally don't have to look up most of the tables. I know by extensive practice what you can do with 3 Advantage, or 2 Threat. I know how much damage a blaster pistol does, or that a Vibro-Axe has the Vicious 3 quality. FFG even makes NPC management easier with their Adversary Deck. I've now got over a hundred adversaries on playing cards that I can dig through and slap onto the table as needed. The game system is so flexible that at a glance I can even add abilities and effects to the base card stats and my PCs are none the wiser.  I theoretically COULD just sit down at a table with no prep-time or pre-made adventure and ask my players "okay, what do you do?", and generally speaking I could make up the adventure on-the-fly.

The harder RPGs to run are those that require a lot of chart-reference. Earthdawn comes to mind, as that game as a "Step" system that determines how many dice you roll. I got a lot of practice with that, but it's a lot harder to remember what you roll for Step 16, or Step 21, or 32. If a lot of bookkeeping is needed to play, that's a lot harder to keep up with while trying to keep the game going. Critters with massive amounts of hit points with a novel-length list of abilities can be very daunting to try and keep track of while you're trying to keep the action dynamic and exciting. You can totally kill your momentum by having to pause for 30 seconds while you figure out what a dragon or a beholder is going to do next.

I have a hunch tomorrow's question is going to be fun to write, and not in the way many folks are expecting. I anticipate that two or three of my friends will read it and have reactions like "...they WHAT?!"

Stay tuned!

#RPGaDay: Day 19, 20, 21

Aright; one more trio and then I'm caught up to today...

19: Which RPG features the best writing?

Star Wars.

Signed by Bill Slavicsek, Sam
Stewart, Sterling Hershey,
and Pablo Hidalgo
Okay, before you all start rolling your eyes, I'm going to clarify that statement; West End Game's original D6 based Star Wars RPG. It had a lot going for it. First of all, as I learned again while watching the "30 Years of Star Wars RPGs" panel at GenCon this year, a lot of what the WEG Star Wars game did was fill in a lot of gaps in the movies from an information standpoint. Until the RPG came along, there were no twi'leks, rodians, or ithorians. No one knew Sienar Fleet Systems made the TIEs, or Koensayr the Y-Wings, or INCOM the X-Wings and Snowspeeders. The name "Kuat Drive Yards" meant nothing, and didn't immediately bring to mind giant 2 kilometer long, triangle shaped warships. The RPG team and the developers on it created terms and ideas that are now used in Star Wars writing today. The gaming books that were written were designed from the standpoint of "we're the only ones making anything Star Wars right now, let's make it good." Sourcebooks such as Cracken's Rebel Field Guide and the Imperial Sourcebook are resource goldmines for every game and camapign that came after it. Out of the WEG Star Wars line came original work by folks like Pablo Hidalgo, Timothy Zahn, and Michael Stackpole.

Suffice to say that the Star Wars we know today would not have been possible without the work of Bill Slavicsek and his writing team at West End Games. One of the highlights of my week at GenCon was listening in on his panel and hearing the stories about the early days of Star Wars gaming. Shaking his hand afterwards and giving him an enthusiastic "thank you!" was a bonus.

20: What is the best source for out of print RPGs.

If you don't mind them being PDF copies, I have to direct folks to DriveThru-RPG. They've got quite a few games that have given up the ghost and faded into almost-obscurity. I'm sorely tempted to pick up a pdf copy of Mekton Zeta and Mekton Zeta Plus, just to have them on my tablet.

Which reminds me that I should really get a new micro-usb for my tablet. My 32GB one is starting to reach capacity...

21: Which RPG does the most with the least words?

I'm going to have to go with Lasers and Feelings. You can't get better than a one-page RPG that basically does it all for playing a "Not Quite Star Trek" game.

Speaking from a traditional published-work perspective, I'll probably look to Savage Worlds and FATE Accelerated. These two books are tight, digest-sized RPGs that can handle just about any genre or game as-is. Sure, there are expansion books that flesh out a lot of the details and give players expanded rules, but you really don't need them if you want to play a steampunk game, or a sci-fi game, or a fantasy game. All the rules you need are in those books, and the rest you can build off of them.

And with that, we're caught up to today. Tune in later this afternoon, when I answer the Day 22 question "Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run"!

Monday, August 21, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 16, 17, 18

Still in the airport in Indianapolis, still trying to get caught up on this exercise. 

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

No plan survives contact with the enemy, and there is extensive evidence to support that no RPG survives contact with the gaming public. Gamers across the internet are constantly posting changes they've made to make their well-loved games "better". I'm guilty of it too; I've made some self-determined "fixes" to my beloved Star Wars RPG. When recovering strain at the end of encounters, I allow 2 Advantage to heal 1 strain. In space combat, I allow pilots to take a "Snap Roll" reaction to reduce the damage from a successful hit by the pilot's Ranks in the Piloting skill plus the Handling of the vehicle. I had a bevy of house rules for previous editions of the game, and for most games I've run in the past 10 years.

But the one RPG that I didn't really make any changes to (at least that I can recall) may surprise some of you; Heroes Unlimited. Yup, a Palladium Books game with their broken system and all; I ran a campaign in that system relatively straight out of the rulebook. The rules in HU weren't as broken or over-the-top as RIFTS, so it didn't break down with excessive amounts of attacks and die rolls for combat. My players and I got a good 2 years out of that system and that campaign, and we did it without any changes to the rules presented as written.

Day 17: Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

You know, at first I thought this was going to be a tough question and then I remembered something I inherited from my grandmother when she passed away in 2004. My grandma, known in Sci-Fi circles as "Grandma Trek", would often receive books, magazines, and other periodicals from publishers. One item she received was the universally panned The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role Playing Game. The game is just...awful; so awful that TSR's celebration of the license lapsing and their ability/obligation to burn every remaining copy led to the creation of the "Diana Jones award for excellence in gaming." 

Every other game I owned that have never thrown down on the table has been given away or sold, so by default the Indiana Jones RPG wins.

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

That's a really tough call. It really comes down to what the limit is.

If we're sticking with one system and one edition, it's probably going to be Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (and I'll include 3.5 Edition in that). I ran many a game and many a campaign for a solid 8-10 years using that system. I don't think I was able to run any specific edition of Star Wars for that long.

However, if you're opening up the definition to all editions of the game, then it's Star Wars hands down. I attended a panel on Saturday at GenCon that talked about the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars RPG license, and I've been gaming in that system since West End Game's 2nd edition of the rules. That's at least 25 years of gaming in the Star Wars galaxy.

No wonder I'm such a Star Wars nerd.

#RPGaDay: Day 12, 13, 14

Currently sitting in the Indianapolis airport, waiting to catch my flight home from GenCon. Since I've got two hours before my flight, I figure now is a good time to finish this off...

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

Unsuprisingly, I'm going to go with the Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight Games. Their art design is par none, with each book in their line containing not only beautiful two-page chapter-headers and gorgeous career portraits, but also include a wide array of original art pieces that evoke stories. The young twi'lek girl who finds a holocron in an antique shop, the rebel soldier in a trench looking at the holo of her dead loved one, the aspiring Jedi fighting an Inquisitor on the exterior of a Star Destroyer in an asteroid field; these pieces capture the mystery, the conflict, and the excitement of gaming in the Star Wars galaxy.

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

This is a tough one. Most of my current gaming style comes from decades of evolution in my Gamemastering style. It's rather difficult for me to look back over that time to try and remember one event that changed how I run games, but I can call back and find something that affected my gaming; conventions.

My first foray into convention games was at Origins back in 2005 (I think). My brothers and I were into Mechwarrior: Dark Age at from time to time we'd go to Origins to compete in the National Championships. Wizards of the Coast was in the final year of their Living Force campaign, and I wanted to finally get a chance to play in a Star Wars game instead of running them all the time. I remember my Kel Dor Jedi fondly, and I also remember the aggravation of having to deal with "convention gamers"; guys who's RP style was to dick around and act in manners that no actual person would (at least, not without being arrested). I was there to try and get a positive gaming experience from the other side of the GM screen, meanwhile Dicky the Wonder Smuggler from Central Who-gives-a-damn just wanted to be a wise ass for the sake of being a wise ass. Thankfully, the sessions weren't a total wash, and I did have fun in the end, but it definitely made me appreciate the players that I get to play with from my meticulously cultivated player-group at home. Additionally, it reminded me that not everyone in the world games like I do, and when I run convention modules I try and have the patience and composure to let the players enjoy the game in their own way, and to only interject when someone is monopolizing the game for their own enjoyment at the expense of someone else at the table.

Day 14: Which RPG do you prefer for an open ended campaign?

Any RPG that lacks a finite progression path.

There's something about a game with a set number of levels to character progression that puts a timer or a cap on a game. D20 system's traditional "20 Character Levels" is a great example. Especially in the sense of Star Wars Saga Edition, D20 characters tended to have their progression mapped out; most of my players would build their entire character paths out from the start of game.

"Okay, I know I want to take Jedi Knight at  7th level, and I want to have these powers by Level 9, so I need to take Feat X and Y at 6th Level, Talent Q at 5th and R at 8th, and Knowledge: How to be a Bad Ass Jedi when I increase my Intelligence at 8th level..."

That sort of character road-mapping really put a dampener on letting your character naturally grow and evolve. Life is full of events and crossroads where your intended career and lifepath deviates greatly from where you expected to go. I've come to really enjoy games where the system encourages that sort of freedom.

Additionally, the D20 system also starts to get bloated and a real challenge to run once characters get over level 11 or 12. The threats have to scale up, which usually meant more time spent on npc development as well as management of an excessive number of abilities in each character. More often than not, I'd forget to utilize those abilities simply because my mental bandwidth couldn't handle trying to remember and control six NPCs able to challenge a group of six Level 12 PCs. That encouraged me to end campaigns as they reached that level, before I really got bogged down, which tends to remove the Open-Ended option to those campaigns.

Three down, six more days to catch up on...

Friday, August 11, 2017

Edge of the Wasteland - A Fallout Hack for Edge of the Empire

So anyone who's been following this blog for any actual length of time, or anyone who's attended GamerNationCon these past two years, is familiar with my Fallout Hack for the FFG Star Wars Narrative Dice Setting. Backers to last year's GNC Kickstarter got access to these documents, and since it's been a year I figured it was time to share those documents with the masses.

This is the setting that started it all; Sam Stewart found the game "enlightening" when he got to play it (he got to play the Vault-Dweller, Artie Drake). Six months later, I'm getting an invite to playtest "Genesys", so it must have been really enlightening.

Anyway, since these documents were written, I've taken everything I've learned along with the Beta Rules for Genesys and re-written them. I've done a lot of cleaning up, reformatting, balancing, and rewriting to conform to what folks will see in the Genesys rulebook when it drops. So think of this as a "Prototype" for what Genesys could be, and take it with salt as to what to expect when the game launches later this year.

Edge of the Wasteland and Module 1: "A Better Man"

Feedback is always welcome, with the caveat that much of the information here is obsolete (power armor is pretty different now, for example).

#RPGaDay: Day 11

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

I've been pondering this answer for the past 24 hours.

I think the one I'd like to see come back in some form or another is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. I loved that setting, and after the D&D Red Box was my first real dive into RPGs. The core book had rules for making all sorts of mutant animals. Each animal had a set amount of "mutations" you could take; you might have animal features or a look that could pass as an ugly or exotic human. You might walk upright or hunched over. You may have paws, partial manual dexterity, or full human-like hands. You might be able to talk, you might not. You could also develop psionic powers. Maybe you kept your claws, or keen senses, or armored shell, or spines (the poking kind, not the skeletal kind). Each animal had a set number of "points" to spend on mutations, so you couldn't have everything. You had to give up some things for the sake of human-like stature.

The supplemental books expanded on the core book, adding more animals and weird tech as seen in the TMNT comics; Triceratons, TCRI Aliens, space-faring adventures, even time- and dimensional-travel (along with mutant dinosaur heroes!). While the system was Palladium's core rules set, back then it wasn't as bloated as it got in later decades and was playable at that scale.

I'd love to see a revamp of that setting and a rules set that plays an homage to the original mutation rules, but obviously without the Palladium system. That could be a ton of fun. Someone should get on that.


*adds "TMNT" to the growing pile of Genesys Themes to write*

Adolescent Gene-spliced Martial Porcupines

Thursday, August 10, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 10

As predicted, this day is going to be a short day...

Where do you go for your RPG Reviews?

Gonna be honest here; I don't. I've long sense grown out of the "Pokemon Phase" of gaming ("gotta play them all!") There was a time when a new game would come out and if it was a subject matter that interested me I'd pick up the core book, but I've got a mortgage and bills to pay now. And a house with a finite amount of space in it. Even taking into consideration e-published books, I simply don't have the time to play all the RPGs out there I might be interested in. So unless it's something I'm die-hard into, like Star Wars or Fallout or something like that, I typically don't go hunting for RPGs these days.

In those rare times I might be looking for something, like I was last year when I was hunting for a system to run my Anomaly setting in, I did some basic research online for games. There wasn't any one specific site I went to, so I suppose you could say my place I go for reviews was Google.

Although maybe that's not true; I have gone to the r/RPG section of Reddit a couple times to see what redditors say about some titles, or see what their opinions are for certain system. So I guess there's your answer; Reddit.

Tomorrow looks like fun; I'm going to have to put some thought into this one...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 9

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

...all of them?

Well, okay that's not really accurate. I'd be hard pressed to play a 10 session arc of Lasers and Feelings or Og. Those games tend to be short one-shots that you play in an afternoon or evening, then call it done. Most other traditional RPGs are designed for a typical campaign arc of multiple sessions.

But let's take this exercise to the next step and be literal, what RPG is good to play for 10 sessions. A session could be a couple hours or it could be 6-8, but I'll use the "industry standard expectation" of 4 hours. So a 40 hour game, essentially. If I'm running such a game, I want the game to be easy to run and easy to play. I don't want to spend time looking over or arguing about obscure rules. Combat should be quick enough that we're not spending hours on one fight (unless it's a climax) but also long enough to really feel like your tactical choices matter. Finally, character advancement needs to be meaningful, some games out there it takes a lot of effort to "level up".

I'm going to try and grade some of the systems I've played based on the above criteria. I'll use a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the "perfect game for 10 sessions".

Here's my breakdown...

Palladium: Rifts/Robotech
I really enjoyed playing the Robotech RPG when it came out, and collected as many books as I could. When Rifts came along using the same system, I was in love. Sadly, it was a love that would not last, as the object of my affections became more and more bloated, with each year adding more and more insanity to the mixture. Finally, I had enough, and couldn't handle the craziness of the system or the skyrocketing stats I had to deal with. Running the game was difficult, with powers and abilities spread out across a dozen books. The amount of damage creatures and vehicles could take got obscene, so combat turned into a slogfest of whittling down outrageous numbers of hit points. Prep time for Robotech wasn't bad, I could use basic, pre-printed stats for most opponents, but for Rifts it was worse than Heroes Unlimites. Advancement wasn't bad, but it did exasperate the problem of higher hit points making combat last longer.

Easy to Run: 3
Easy to Play: 6
Combat Time: 4
Advancement: 5
Final Rating: 4.5 - A fun setting, but the system prevents it from being a contender for a 10 session campaign

Palladium: Heroes Unlimited/TMNT And Other Strangeness
I've played the hell out of these games back in High School and into College. I even had a pretty regular "Century City" campaign going for a while that ran bi-weekly. These were pretty good systems for it. Combat wasn't too long once we got used to rolling initiative, and it certainly wasn't any length I'd consider "too quick". Character advancement felt meaningful with level-ups occurring every other session. It was a bit of a pain to prep for, as creating stat-blocks for mutant animals or super-villains got pretty cumbersome; I'd probably spend 1 hour prepping for every 2 hours of gameplay.

Easy to Run: 4
Easy to Play: 8
Combat Time: 6
Advancement: 6
Final Rating: 6 - A fun game with the right players, but there are probably better games out there for a 10 session arc.

D20 - Dungeons and Dragons (3.5 Edition, Star Wars Saga Edition)
This was the system of D&D I really got into. For the most part, it was pretty easy to run as long as I was using stat blocks right out of the Monster Manual. If I had to make an NPC with levels or added a template to a creature, it increased prep-time a little bit. Ease of play was average, most of the time things went swiftly but then there were moments where we had to dig into sourcebooks or try and figure out who certain checks worked (damn you, Grapple rules...) Combat time was decent until the game got into the level 10+ range, then opponents started to get significant hit point totals and slowed combat down. Character advancement was generally pretty good, with level ups occurring every session or every other session depending on several factors.

Easy to Run: 6
Easy to Play: 7
Combat Time: 7
Advancement: 8
Final Rating: 7 - The classic scores an above average score. A D20 system is a solid choice for a 10-session game.

FFG Narrative Dice System - Star Wars, Genesys
Boy howdy, do I love running this system. It shows too, I've pretty much been running this system exclusively since 2013. I've found that it fits perfectly into my lifestyle; the only regular games I can play are either bi-weekly for a few hours or once every couple of months for 5-7 hours. Once you learn the system, I find it a breeze to run. Prep time is fractional compared to other systems I've referenced, and in many cases I can go completely off-the-cuff and none are the wiser. Players may have some complex characters options, but those tend to be rare or limited to advanced Force users. Combat feels like a dream to me, with initiative rolled once and combat time usually being a sweet spot of "just enough but not too long". Advancement might be a little slow if players want to dive deep into specialization trees.

Easy to Run: 9
Easy to Play: 8
Combat Time: 9
Advancement: 6
Final Rating: 8 - A great system for a short game or a long game. Perfect for a 10-session arc.

That was a long answer for today's question. Which is good, because I'm not expecting tomorrow to be a lengthy one.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 8

All caught up, let's keep this train a rolling (mostly because I'm sure to fall off the wagon late next week...)

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

Definitely not Earthdawn...

There's a few I've played that could certainly fall into this category. The best games for short game sessions are, in my mind, ones that have basic rules and are easy to run, rather than something that takes a long time to run and adjudicate. Most of what leaps to mind are all these one-shot, one page indie RPGs that are out there; Everyone is John, Lasers and Feelings, and Fiasco. But, there are some larger, more robust RPGs that work in a two hour format too. If it's a narrative driven game, rather than a tactical rules-based one, you can get some decent game time in 2 hours. FATE, for all that I'm not enamored with the rules, tends to have quick play and conflict resolution. My go-to game lately, FFG's Star Wars (and soon to be Genesys) narrative dice system also does well in a shortened format. My bi-weekly Wednesday night game sometimes only actually plays for 2 hours, and we are usually able to move the story and plot along at a decent pace in that short time-frame.

I'm really enjoying this series. Looking forward to some of the answers coming up later in the month.

Monday, August 7, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 5, 6, and 7

As expected I got behind in my posting for this over the weekend. But we're back today to make up for lost time.

Day 5- Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game.

Good question, there's a lot of games out there that have covers that really inspires the game within. In recent memory, the one that I feel captures the game the best is Pathfinder. I mean come on, look at that thing; it's got adventurers fighting a dragon amidst the ruins of some castle. The only other one that comes close to such evocative imagery is the cover for Eberron, and that was done by the same artist. The problem with Eberron was that the full artwork got condensed on the cover, so only if you saw the original piece would you appreciate it's full glory. Meanwhile, limiting it to a small piece of it was a disservice to the artist.

Moving right along...

Day Six: You can game every day for a week; describe what you would do.

Good lord, I'm reminded of my college days...

If I was running the game and had to run for a week straight, I'd have a ton of prep-work to do; I can tell you that. Actually, gaming every day for a week actually wouldn't be great if it was limited it to one game; it would be a lot of "game, pause for several hours to plan next phase, game, plan for several hours, repeat".

What would be better is to get six others and have each person ready to run a solid, long game sessions of their game. So seven campaigns in seven days; that sounds awesome. Now, if I could only  still survive that long on gamer food without dying from digestive distress, it would be better.

Day Seven: What was your most impactful RPG session.

Oooph. Yeah, I remember this one. It was a 3rd Edition D&D game back in...2002? An epic Twin Worlds game titled "The Four Aces". The scene was that the heroes were opening at a dimensional opening from the "other world" (long story). They were ground zero for a Yuan-Ti invasion. In my mind, the fight was supposed to be a "present PCs with overwhelming forces and make them run". So there's my group of 8 PCs (ah, the good old days...) and about 60 Yuan-Ti come flooding out of the gate, with more behind them. According to my plans, they turned and ran. This is when I made my first mistake (well, second one actually, my first one came in the pre-game statting for my NPCs, I'll explain in a moment); I had several Yuan Ti teleport in front of them. Not many, maybe a half dozen big ones (abominations?). In my post-game discussions, the mentality of my players turned from "he wants us to flee" to "okay, he wants us to fight; let's do this". So they pause in their escape to take out six abominations while the bulk of the Yuan Ti invasion force comes at them from behind. A grand melee starts, one that would prolong a one hour engagement into a three hour slogfest, and my second (or first) mistake happens.

While crafting up the stats for the lead Yuan Ti warriors, I gave their commander a magic scimitar. It was a Greater Displacing Scimitar, a nice threat for my brother who was playing the Aasimar Paladin. I mistakenly thought to myself "this would be fun if he got hit with it and was forced into another plane of existence", not actually thinking he'd fail the save throw necessary to keep that from happening.  I thought it would be a nice "you feel dislocated for a moment, but snap back to this reality" that would ramp up the threat and tension.

He got hit with the scimitar and proceeded to roll a "2" on his Saving Throw. So the big, bad tank got punted into a hell dimension. This was in round 3; remember how I said this turned into a 3 hour slogfest? My brother ended up going into his bedroom and poking his computer (justifiably) in an angry funk while listening to everyone else at least have the enjoyment of playing out the battle. At the end of the fight, they found a way to open a dimensional portal where they found him standing amidst the bodies of dozens of minor demons (I didn't want to gyp him out of XP). My brother was not happy, my players felt challenged to the point of frustration, and I learned a valuable lesson about tactical management, scene setting, and Murphy's Law.

Friday, August 4, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 4

#4: Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

This may come as a shock to you all, but it's the Star Wars Narrative Dice System by Fantasy Flight Games!


Since August of last year I've ended my Legacy-era Another Longshot campaign, continued my Rebellion-Era Relics campaign, joined my buddy Tim's Rebellion(?)-Era Hay in a Needlestack campaign, and started a Dawn Of Rebellion-era Renegades campaign.

Oh, and I ran a KotOR Era JLA/Star Wars game down at GamerNation Con that people seemed to enjoy.

I have played A LOT of Star Wars since finding the West End Games edition in High School. I've also purchased just about every book there was since the D20 OCR. My PCs have faced clones of Darth Maul and dead Jedi Knights from Geonosis, outsmarted hutts and bounty hunters, and even were the reason there wasn't an At-At at the bunker during the Battle of Endor. They've rubbed elbows with Luke, Han, and Leia, and even been some of them in Alternate Universes. 

You'd think that after...25 years?...of gaming in the Star Wars universe, I'd be tapped out. But I'm not.  I'll keep running and playing as long as the ideas keep coming.  

And I don't feel like I'll be running out of ideas anytime soon.

Hmm...I'll need to do some research for tomorrow's question...

Thursday, August 3, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 3

So, Day 3...

How do you find out about new RPGs.


Typically anything I need to know about new RPGs, or any game in general, I find out through Facebook or Reddit. I'm involved in a few communities that inevitably share around anything I might be interested in. New RPG books from FFG appear on my feed regularly, and anything that comes up like Star Trek Adventures or the Fallout Wasteland Wargame eventually get back to me. The D20 Radio group in particular is a good source for games that I'd be inclined to play.

That being said, I'm not really hunting for new RPGs right now. I've somewhat settled on a system I like and will probably stick with it for some time...

Tune in tomorrow for a completely unsurprising answer to "What RPG have you played the most since August 2016"!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

#RPGaDay: Day 1 and Day 2

So here's a fun thing I'll be doing for the next 31 days...

I answered these on my facebook, but figured I could expand upon them here.

1. What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
Savage Rifts; I had a lot of fun playing it with Darren West at GNC4. Rifts has always been a setting that I really dug in concept, but the execution has never worked well for me except those few games I ran before the system got REALLY bloated.
The setting is a lot of fun, and adds in a lot of potential. It's got human supremacist nazis, magic tyrants, vicious monsters, and horrible demons. Power armor, techno-wizards, robots, magic users, cyber-knights, cyborgs, and of course; Glitter Boys.
Savage Rifts did a good job of making the game playable. Even so, I'll likely make a Rifts Theme for Genesys...

2. What RPG would you like to see published?
If it wasn't for the fact that I wrote my own hack for it, I'd love to see a Fallout RPG make it to widespread publication (and Exodus doesn't count). Looks like Modius Entertainment has the rights to Fallout for wargaming, and I can only hope that they take their 2d20 system that they use for Mutant Chronicles, Conan, and Star Trek Adventures and make a Fallout RPG.
Still, I've got my own game setting, and am adapting it for Genesys.
This should be fun to do, especially with GenCon 50 coming up...


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Anomaly - The League Faces Challenges

The formation of the League of Allied Worlds may have brought an end to the Garden Conflicts, but it certainly didn't wipe away a hundred years of prejudice and suspicion. In spite of it's name, the League was never meant to become a unified government for all of the worlds in the Garden Nebula. At best, it was a way for the various planetary and interstellar governments to come together to resolve disputes without armed conflict. 

Those early meetings of the League Council were rough; shouting and posturing was seemingly the preferred method of conversation rather than debate and compromise. There was a lot for the Council to work out; planets that had changed sides during the Conflicts that two or sometimes three governments claimed, a interstellar economy and trade treaties needed to be ratified, and then there was the problem of the Allef Refugees.  These were just the tip of the gigantic stack of bills, legislature, and diplomatic treaties the Council faced.

In the case of conquered planets; those had to be resolved on a case by case basis. Forty three worlds fell into this category; worlds that various empires had controlled during the last hundred years. Each government would have to pour resources into those worlds, species migrated to those planets to not only secure and protect the world, but also cultivate it or look for a chance at a new beginning. Over the years, the fact that a world held both humans and Naguli populations meant that no matter which empire the world was turned over to, there was a considerable portion of the population that could be upset with the change. This led to concerns over riots and armed revolt; and that happened. 

On the world of Barm, the Granos population (about 38% of those living on Barm) objected to being turned over to the Republic of Kel. They protested and formed resistance cells against the Republic government. The resistance groups tried to get the Granos Territories to send help, but the Territories were bound to non-interference by the League Agreement; aiding the Granos take over the world would likely restart the Garden Conflicts. In the end, most of the Granos were offered a chance to leave Barm, and were given a paltry amount by the Republic as a "reparation award". The money barely covered transit expenses, and left those who returned to the Territories with nothing.  Meanwhile, those Granos who elected to stay on Barm reaped the rewards, taking over vast amounts of real estate and holdings.

The interstellar economy was an easier topic to resolve; most empires agreed that they would need a universal currency to foster trade between them. Establishing the currency was easy, implementing it was hard. It took an army of bankers and finance experts from every empire to come up with the exchange rates and treasury indexes that allowed the Garden Credit system to come into being as a legitimate currency, and to avoid the inevitable spiral of inflation. The Garden Credit became the preferred currency across the nebula within 5 years of the inception of the League. 

The Allef refugees became a complex problem for the League. The Allef were always an aloof race, usually preferring to stand alone during the Conflicts, and only entering the war when they had something to gain. The Allef Domains incorporated worlds from the Republic and the Naguli Empire, all of which were lost during the Conflict's final years. While the destruction of Allef led to the creation of the League, none of the League members could really decide what to do with those Allef who had either been rescued from the dying world or where off-world when the disaster occurred. All the League members were trying to rebuild their own worlds, help their own people rebuild or else handle the waves of refugees from their own empires; ex-patriots who elected to come home when their worlds were turned over to other governments. None of the League members formally elected to grant the Allef any relief, citing a need to focus on their own worlds for a time. This led the Allef no where to go; most had no money or holdings to utilize; those were all vaporized or left behind on Allef. A few philanthropists and charitable organizations did what they could to help the Allef Refugees, but many more slipped through the cracks and had to strike out on their own to survive.

In recent years, some Allef have managed to form small colonies and communities on worlds throughout the nebula, but these are small and widespread. Its still more common to find Allef alone or in small packs, wandering the space lanes trying to survive in a League that owes them everything, yet gives them nothing.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Anomaly - The Birth of the League

It started with the end of the Allef.

The war had gone on for a hundred years. Collectively it was known as “the Garden Conflicts”, because at various points in its history empires would leave and later rejoin the fighting. Looking back on it now, no one truly left the war, they merely stopped fighting for a relative brief moment to catch their breath and replenish their losses. But usually within a generation, they would be back looking for justice, or vengeance, or resources, or whatever it was they were fighting for this time.

After a century of conflict, the empires started to get desperate. Many had lived their whole lives knowing nothing but war. Only the Granos and the Narasheem could remember a time when there was no war, back before the empires even knew the others existed. Many of them sought out new weapons and technologies, an edge that could bring this conflict to a close once and for all. The Uranar tried it first with Gesalin Gas, which they unleashed on the Republic of Kel. The death of Iasalo, three hundred thousand humans, drove the Republic into a frenzy. The Narasheem and the Granos weren’t too thrilled with their neighbor either, and formed a truce with the Republic. That phase of the war ended in a stalemate; the Uranar couldn’t use their Gesalin gas on any of their enemies' worlds, and the trio couldn’t invade the Reaches for fear of losing their forces to Gas attack.

The Republic researched “Jump Cannons”, mass drivers that could fire projectiles through localized jump gates. The Granos attempted to create supersoldiers through bio-tech research. The Narsheem sought out the power to weaponize solar flares to bathe fleets and planets in electro-magnetic pulses. Each empire had something that they were working on that could result in the utter annihilation of their enemies, but it was the Allef that made everyone wake up and see what the century had wrought.

The Allef, besieged by the Naguli and the Drakon clans, and abandoned by their allies in the Republic, were desperate. The Allef Domain had shrunk, and they were reeling. The Naguli had conquered most of the Domain’s former worlds, while the Drakons raided the rest until there was nothing left worth taking. With their backs against the wall, and no help in sight, the Allef attempted one last gambit to save their people and stop the war; they succeeded with the latter goal.

On that fateful day, a Naguli invasion fleet appeared over the Allef homeworld. As they approached, the Allef engaged their secret weapon; a gravity singularity bomb. The bomb detonated in front of the Naguli fleet, just as the main command ship was arriving. The gravity singularity formed at the same time as the massive command ship’s jump gate. The two fields interacted, catastrophically. When the blast faded, the Naguli fleet was gone, but most of Allef was gone with it. Over 60% of the planet’s mass, the area closest to the singularity, was drawn in. It was as if a giant entity took a massive bite out of the planet. Allef’s atmosphere destabilized, it’s gravity was thrown off by its loss of mass. What was left of Allef shook itself apart over the next ten days.  

The suicidal destruction of Allef shook the other empires to their foundations. They saw the lengths that a once powerful empire took to win the war and were shocked into action. Rescue ships from several empires headed to Allef to try and save anyone they could. Even so, only ten thousand Allef were rescued from the planet that once held three billion.

The death of the Allef greatly disturbed the other empires. They took a hard look at themselves, their people, and the effects the war had on the entire Stellar Garden. This event prompted the Republic to negotiate with the other empires. The Granos Territories responded first, but eventually the Narasheem worlds, and the Uranar Reaches entered negotiations. Even the Naguli Empire came to the table. The Drakon Clans ceased their attacks as they evaluated what the empires were doing.  After months of arguing, deal making, negotiating, and eventually peacemaking, the League of Allied Worlds were formed.

And all it took was the death of an empire.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rookies - First Time GMs

So it's Father's Day, and I like many parents in this hobby have the pleasure of sharing gaming with my step-son. He's played in one campaign of mine and is lining up to be in the next one. He's come along as a player.  

In the meantime, he's started playing games with his peers; his own friends from high school and college. Actually, he's started down the path of game-mastering, running games for his friends. Frankly, I dimly recall my own first time experiences running games back when I was his age; another decade...hell, another millennium ago. Not only that, but when it comes to Star Wars gaming, I ran 5 whole systems ago. The West End Games system had different rules, but not really a different vibe. WEG's system was ahead of it's time, it had a narrative core layered on with rules and crunch bloat.

As I said, I don't recall much of specific challenges I faced when I was my son's age, but as an exercise, I realized it could be an interesting experience to talk to Jason about the challenges he's facing as a rookie GM.

So why did you want to run a Star Wars game?

Because I've been playing it enough, I wanted to try being the GM.  It's the game system I've enjoyed the most out of what I've played.
What else have you played?

Mutants and Masterminds, the White Wolf games like Vampire, Werewolf, and those. What's their fantasy game...Exalted?  I think I played one of your Rifts modules, but not in the Rifts systems (likely one of my many attempts to hack it to another system).  

I tried the latest Marvel Super Heroes game, but I found the system too complex.

How many times have you run a game?

Three times so far, and they've been all really small groups; 2 people. I've got 5 players, it's just problematic trying to get them all together, so I run with whoever can show up.
Talk to me about your experiences running the game; what aspects are you finding a challenge and is anything coming to you easy?

I've been running adventure modules so far, and it involves a lot of "fleshing it out". They give you a good map to follow, and suggest a lot of stuff for plotlines in between; side quests and things like that. I've been trying to do that, but I've had two problems; the first issue is I've found that fleshing out the book's suggestions is tough.

The other problem is my PCs are relatively new to this, and are more focused on following the main storyline, so some of the side quest stuff is out of their interest.  Like, in Mask of the Pirate Queen, the players are eager to take the bounty contact without doing any background checks on the employer or obtain any information about the target of the bounty. They just want to take the contract and advance the story line.

As far as what's easy?  Combat is really easy, the PCs are all over that, and I enjoy the way the Star Wars system works. It's so open for what you can try to pull off with the results of the rolls.

Rules wise, what's the hardest obstacle you've found?

When I can use skulduggery (laughs) It's really just that you can use a variety of skills for a variety of situations. I'm just trying to figure out which skill you want to use or how to use it given any situation I encounter.

You're running your players through several printed modules. Do your players do what you expect, or are they going "off the rails"? Do you think the books handle that problem, or are you having to come up with your own solutions?

They're not even going off the rails, they're pretty much sticking with them. They straight-line the plot line and don't get distracted with any side topics.  Although they did decide to murder a Rodian shop assistant...

It's like they're playing Diablo; follow the main story and no side quests.

Do you want to create your own adventures?  Any ideas of what you want to come up with for a story or plot idea?

Absolutely, but I'm kinda stuck on what I'd want to do for an adventure with them. Thus far we only have one person in the group who's gamed before. Bringing the newbies through the various adventure modules is a good start. But I'll eventually run out of modules.

Honeslty, I think I'd like to run something similar to Beyond the Rim; find something, retrieve it, have stuff happen in between, and then they discover what they retrieved isn't what they originally thought. 

What setting would you like to run the game in?  Rebellion? Outer Rim?  Force and Destiny?

Probably a freeform game. If everyone shows up we've got two Edge of the Empire characters and three Force users. I think Edge of the Empire is the way to go for this group.

How have your players been taking to the game?

They seem to enjoy it. I mean, they show up, throw some dice, attempt to kill people, and have a good time.

What's their play style?

"Blow everything up". The last game I played that my buddy Everett was running, we had two Hired Guns, two Bountry Hunters, and me as the Demolitionist.  So yeah; "blow everything up".  We had to rescue someone from a building and the other players started throwing explosives through the windows.

I can't image that ended well.

Thankfully the guy we had to rescue was on the second floor.  Everything else got demolished. Anything we might have wanted on the first floor was completely wrecked.

It was all high school guys; no one wanted to be the talker, they all wanted to just wreck things.

I had that phase...

Honestly I'm surprised because two of them didn't go Force Users this time around.

Because they haven't blown stuff up with the force yet.


I'm trying to think of my own experiences, and I'm having a hard time doing it. When I was your age running games, I mean.

When I started playing, I wanted to go straight combat. With your Another Longshot game, I decided not to go full combat. Let's be honest, everyone in my group was a tank or a beatstick.

Right?  Do you find yourself wanting to spread out more?

Yeah, that's why I want to go part mechanic for my next PC. As opposed to maxing out agility and shoot everything off the map.  

But that's fun too.

True! That being said, with some of the mechanics stuff for Rigger, it's really useful.

Any final thoughts on running and being a new GM?

I need to write stuff down if I want to make a game. Otherwise I'm not going to have a clue where to continue games.  I need to write down NPCs, planets, names, backstories; write it all down and keep track of it. I haven't really remembered every character's name when I played Longshot as a player. It's important to do that now that I'm a GM.

I do like using a white board for combat scenes.  In one of your games you did that, and I liked that. My players found it really useful to see where opponents and hazards are. So I'm going to keep using that.

Thanks for participating, Jason!
I gotta say, I'm having a "proud papa bear" moment when I think of my stepson sitting down behind the screen and running games. 

He keeps wanting to borrow my books, though...and I need them too.
Finally, a big nod of thanks to my wife for suggesting this topic. She's a real smartie, that one.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Coloring Within The Lines

One of the biggest personal obstacles I encounter when I'm creating a Star Wars campaign is how close to canon I'm going to keep the game. I've done games where the PCs interacted with established canon (with no adverse effects to the movies), and campaigns that completely tossed canon right out the window. Sometimes it's fun to rub elbows with Skywalker, Solo, Organa, and Vader. Other times I want to keep them as far away from it as possible. Not necessarily because I want to "preserve the story", but more because those stories have been told. By interacting with the movie characters, the PCs may feel like they're simply supporting cast for "the Big Three". That's not their role, though; they're the Player Characters. This is their story, and they deserve an epic as big as any Star Wars hero who's appeared on screen to date.

Aside from the aforementioned "tossing canon out the window", there are several tricks to keep your campaign within canon, but not interacting with canon. I find myself utilizing this when I put together a new Star Wars game.

Location, Location, Location

One of the first questions I ask myself when creating a new game; when does the story take place? Star Wars has a rich history, even if most of it now falls into the category of "Legends", and is no longer established canon. You've got the Old Republic era, thousands of years before the movies. You could even go farther back than that to the formation of the Republic and the fall of the Infinite Empire, and give the game a real "space fantasy" feel. You could play in the Fall of the Republic/Clone Wars era, or the Dark Times. The product line from Fantasy Flight Games is currently written from the standpoint of the Rebellion Era, and much of the media since Disney took over Lucasfilm has been focused on a return to that time. There's the New Republic era, both in the books from the last 25 years and the newer version that Episodes 7-9 will show us. The Yuuzhan Vong war, the Legacy Era, even farther beyond you could make up your own future where your PCs are Skywalkers, Solos, Antilles(es?), Calrissians, and a host of other famous family members.

So "which era to run" is my first question. Once I have that, the next location to decide is where in the galaxy is the game focused? Some campaigns I've run had no specific central location in the galaxy, they just sort of happened wherever the PCs wanted (or needed) to go. This felt rather epic, as the story swept across the galaxy to a score of worlds the the PCs would likely never come back to. However, the games where I had the most fun were ones that had a central location; a place for the PCs to get familiar with, get to know the people and unique places within, and gave them a sense of "coming home" every few sessions. 

I sort of equate it to the difference between shows like Star Trek (Original series or Next Generation) and Battlestar Galactica versus ones like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5; with one the new location is the exciting discovery or unknown threat, while with the other there's a general desire to protect your home from threats that come to it, or dwell within it. This is a generalization and simplification to be sure, but I hope you get my meaning.

The Right Amount of Seasoning

A sad consequence of growing old was the dawning realization that I can't game like I did in college; not if I want to maintain a healthy social balance among my family and friends. No more weekly games for me, the games typically need to be spread out to months between sessions. This can make sweeping epics very hard to maintain, as I was reminded of with my last campaign "Another Longshot". I have to factor this in to the type of story I want to create with my players; more of a series of connected adventures that could stand alone rather than a sweeping epic that takes years to complete. 

The more I write these days, the more it feels like I'm planning on "seasons" for my game rather than sessions. It's like the Rebels cartoon or any of the DC's "Arrowverse" shows on the CW; each episode (or 2-episode arc) deals with a stand alone story. Within that story are plot threads that weave into a larger storyline that will culminate at the end of the season. This give me more of an opportunity to write sessions based on the player's backgrounds, motivations, and complications while still building towards a season finale that ties it all together.

Uncharted Territory

So what happens when you have a desire to run a game in an era that's seemingly been written a thousand times over? I had this mentality for a good fifteen years that I was done with the Rebellion Era; that every story that could have been told within that time frame had been told. I was distracted by the stories being written after the destruction of the Second Death Star, or by those leading up to and including the Clone Wars. But what appealed to me about those eras were that there was seemingly more open canvas in which I could paint my own picture about Star Wars. An uncharted section of space where I determine what happens there in. What I was reminded of recently was that the galaxy is a really, really, really big place. There's plenty of space within the galaxy for me to create a vast and robust story and never have it cross paths with anything already established if I don't want it to.

One of the best resources I've found is the interactive Star Wars Galaxy Map website. It lists out the location of every known sector, planet, and trade route in the Star Wars galaxy. It even links them all to Wookieepedia, so you can look up important details about the planet, sector, or trade route. Taking some time, it's rather easy to find a sector or two that are practically empty; devoid of any meaningful established canon  or even "Legendary canon".

Practice Makes Perfect

Utilizing the points I've made thus far, let's look at a potential new campaign. With my rediscovered enjoyment of the Galactic Civil War, I elect to place the campaign in the Rebellion Era. Specifically, I'm really enjoying the years leading up to A New Hope, as seen in the Rebels cartoon and Rogue One. I want to tell a story about a rebellion forming within a specific sector, one that will become a part of the greater Rebellion as a whole, but still focuses on the politics and dynamics within a specific region of space.

Looking at the Galaxy Map, there appears to be a nice and mostly vacant sector in the southern side of the galaxy; the Tantra Sector. According to Wookieepedia, there really hasn't been much established there, especially within the new canon. There have been only the barest mention of anything about the sector in Legends canon, even though the sector lies between two of the major galactic trade routes. I can see the sector being heavily colonized within easy reach of those trade routes, with most of the interior of the sector barely touched (or even explored). Entire planets of beings could lie in that region and have yet to be discovered, or lost colonies could have thrived there waiting to be brought back into galactic society.

This region of space, and the era it's in, gives me a huge amount of real estate to create planets, organizations, and plot points for. I can lay out details for the Imperial's control of this sector, outlining the military strength of the Sector Fleet and the general personality and machinations of the Moff in charge of the sector. I can create several worlds to fill specific roles within the sector; population centers, manufacturing locations, agro-worlds, shadowports where criminals thrive, and lost colonies that simply want to be left alone. Pirates who threaten the spacelanes and bounty hunters who hunt them down for sport and profit. Lost temples or starships that hold secrets of the Force... 

And of course, dissidents who balk and refuse to submit to the will of the Empire and who have chosen to be rebels.

This could be a fun place to play, a corner of the sandbox that I can build what I want and how I want it. It can be a familiar place for the players to have meaningful effect on, yet close enough to the "galactic highways" that an adventure could take them across the galaxy if need be.

Growth Potential

Where you place your story is almost as important as what your story is. A good location can make a good game great, a sweeping plot-line epic. It provides players with a sense of familiarity, and can be something to motivate your players to action when you threaten "their home".  Be sure to give a lot of thought to how much freedom and space your location provides, and enjoy the time you spend coloring within those lines.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Anomaly: All the Best Names are Taken

As I look over the notes I have for Anomaly, I'm one again forced to look at the names I've selected. Names are a big deal to me, I put a lot of stock in them. Several friends of mine have reflexively trained me to come up with names that not only sound cool, but are difficult to mock. Just about every game I've written in the past two decades has gone through the "Playground Test" on many occasions.

Even so, a few names slip through unknowingly...

So what's my hang up today? Simply put, I'm trying to decide if these names are cool and evocative enough to keep, or if I should just ditch them and go with something else.

The Stellar Garden: This is the name I came up with for the region of space that the bulk of the campaign setting will be focused in. It's a somewhat isolated section of the galaxy, either contained within or cut off from the rest of the galaxy by a sprawling nebula.  I thought that calling it the Garden would carry a sense that this was a cradle of civilization and species development. A variety of races have evolved within the region, much more so than science or typical sci-fi would have you believe would occur within an area so small (galacticly speaking). I also thought it could carry an almost "Garden of Eden" vibe as well, the thought that within the garden are delights while outside the garden lie dangers to those within.

This is one name I'm on the fence on, but currently leaning towards keeping it. It's a sort of unique name, at least I think it is.  I can't remember any other sci-fi properties referring to a section of space as such.

The Union of Garden Worlds: Ugh...the more I look at this name, the more I want to drop it immediately. I just don't like it.  The abbreviation is too clunky (UGW). It looks ugly, sounds ugly, and feels cumbersome. I want this to be my United Federation of Planets, my Galactic Republic, my Alliance; but all the good names are taken. Federation and Confederation make me think of Star Trek. Alliance and Republic make me think of Star Wars. I could do something with League, I suppose, but I need to keep away from calling it the Star League (Battletech and Last Starfighter). Garden League sounds dumb. League of Allied Worlds could...huh.  That actually doesn't sound too bad as I'm typing it.  

"League of Allied Worlds"...huh.

I even like the anachronism; LAW.  I can come up with all kinds of nicknames for them, both as slang and as insults.  That could work, that could work well.

Drachon Clans: The Drachon are my klingons, my orcs, my Battletech Clans. The outsider warrior society that believes in might and prowess over political machinations, and yet cannot seem to get away from those within their society from having political machinations.  Physically, they're basically Dragonborn (a la D&D).  I don't hate the name "drachon", but I wonder if I shouldn't call the Clans themselves something else. Drachon Clans are basically Klingon Houses, or Orc Tribes; those all use the species name in their identifier.  Maybe Drachon Clans can stick.

Allef: My space elves, because every sci-fi game has space elves. I'm simply electing to merge my space-elves in with another trope; space cat-people. I named them Allef because they're basically alley cats at this point; something befell their homeworld, wiping out almost 90% of their population. They now gather in small colonies or travel the Garden alone, living off the scraps of society or stealing what they can to survive. Still, I'm on the fence about the name.

Bathalian and the Bathal Host: The main villains of the campaign, or the main obvious threat anyway. I got the name for these from a line of miniatures from Reaper Minis. They're mind-flayers/illithids with that particular name filed off, but they also have a real "Zerg Swarm" look to some of the more powerful members. That really inspired me to make them this massive horde that swarms over entire sectors of the galaxy, subjugating planets to their control. I like the name, and the idea that there's a religious component to their society (hence the name "The Host"). My take on religion in my games of late has been relatively minimal; the Force certainly counts as a religion, but it doesn't carry the same weight or presence as gods in settings like D&D. Having a religious motivator for this game will be an inspiring change.

Bodily-Function forthcoming"
Urnar: One of my council-member races for the League of Allied Worlds.  Their name looks and sounds too close to "urine".  Absolutely getting a name change.

The Dark One: Ah yes; this thing. The Dark One is the god that the Bathal Host is founded upon. It's the main deity of their entire belief structure. They receive "blessings" from this god, and use those powers to convert others to their beliefs.  I hate the name. It's too generic. I know I've ranted about this before in this blog too, but I can't come up with something better.  I sort of want the name to be a title, or an adjective, rather than some made up name like "Obliviax" or something like that.  (Although Obliviax sounds cool, I may need to use that name elsewhere...)

It's hard.  It's hard to come up with names at times, especially if I A) want to at least sound original and B) don't want to give away too much ahead of time. 

Names.  They're all taken, man.