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.