Saturday, August 23, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 23 - Coolest Looking RPG Product

This one is kinda tough - it's mostly books, dice, and the occasional screen. Do miniatures count? Nah, I'm going to stay away from that side of things.

Back during 3E D&D's run the full-color hardback became pretty standard for RPG rulebooks and even for supplements for the biggest games, so most of them are pretty cool looking now. 4E D&D brought in the matte-cover-with-a-glossy-insert look and that's cool. The 5E PHB looks pretty similar so nothing revolutionary there.

The Mutants and Masterminds 10th Anniversary Edition is a pretty cool looking book so I'll go with that as one entry.  Blog entry here.

 Ptolus, the big city book from Monte Cook a few years ago was another impressive book, both in the amount of content and in the presentation and organization of that content. I haven't really written about it much on the blog - I should probably do that.

One more nomination is the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition for Pathfinder. It's another update of a previous publication that really sets a high mark for content and presentation. While Ptolus is more a setting with some adventure material added in, RotR is more adventure with some setting added in. There are notes on each area, maps, NPC details, monster stats -everything you would hope for in a published adventure and it's a complete campaign in one book, covering PC's from level 1 to level 17 or 18 from what I see online.

Honorable mentions:

  • Last Unicorn's Star Trek The Next Generation rulebook - it was the first full-color hardback I remember seeing and it was full of images taken right from the series. It made a very strong impression at the time and I think it looks as good as a lot of newer books.  Blog post here.
  • Kenzer's Aces & Eights - a faux-leather cover like the old Time-Life western series and full-color interior with a lot of Remington artwork really conveys the flavor of the period.
  • Paizo's Pathfinder Beginner Box is another impressive product and I think it looks better than any of the D&D starter sets, including the 5th edition one. Blog talk here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 22 - Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

I buy a lot of stuff "secondhand" so this apply to half of what I own. Ebay and used bookstores are good friends of mine.

One that stands out though is the day I walked into a local used bookstore and found an almost-complete set of Deadlands Hell on Earth sitting on the shelf waiting for me. This was around 2000 while the game was still coming out. I had the core book and the setting book and I liked them but there were already 10+ books out so I was not looking at completing it anytime soon. That block of electric green spines jumped right out at me though. I thought about, grabbed them, and had an instant upgrade to just about everything Pinnacle had released so far. I still have them today.

40K Friday - Slow Week

It's been a slow couple of weeks for 40K around here though once Blaster gets the new Wolf codex I expect things will heat up again.In the meantime:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

5E Gets Elemental and Evil

This was an interesting bit of news yesterday over at EN World. Apparently there's a player-focused book ...

The Elemental Evil Adventurer’s Handbook provides everything that players need to build a character that is tied directly into the Elemental Evil story arc, with skills, abilities, and spells meant to augment their play experience throughout the campaign.

... and at least one big adventure:

Called by the Elder Elemental Eye to serve, four corrupt prophets have risen from the depths of anonymity to claim mighty weapons with direct links to the power of the elemental princes. Each of these prophets has assembled a cadre of cultists and creatures to serve them in the construction of four elemental temples of lethal design. It is up to adventurers from heroic factions such as the Emerald Enclave and the Order of the Gauntlet to discover where the true power of each prophet lay, and dismantle it before it comes boiling up to obliterate the Realms. 

Good News: 5E is going to spend at least part of 2015 exploring some Temples of Elemental Evil.

Bad News: That's kind of been an iconic Greyhawk thing, not so much a Realms thing. As someone mentioned in the thread it's like setting "Ruins of Myth Drannor" in Greyhawk.

Now I set a ToEE game in the Realms not all that long ago, but that was a conscious change on my part to keep all of my campaigns in the same world.I spent quite a bit of time agonizing over where to put it but I ended up with a compromise I liked. It seems like a revisit to the whole Elemental Evil concept would be a great way to spotlight Greyhawk as a setting, but that's not how this is going to happen.

Hopeful Prognostication: WOTC seems to be aiming at a limited campaign/Paizo-style Adventure Path approach to adventure and setting material. If this is a popular run then they could bring it back in a few years with a "return to the original source" campaign set in Greyhawk.

Kicking it off with Tiamat did nothing for me - to quote an old post here:

Some people are surprised that WOTC is painting Tiamat as something fresh or as a neglected major villain - she was the big bad in both a big 3.5 adventure (Red Hand of Doom) and WOTC's 4E Adventure Path (Scales of War) - which fits with my view as I think she's showing up way too much, right up there with Orcus. I don't know where it happened but it's started to feel like D&D in general only has about 5 major forces of evil. I'm not kidding, if you look through everything from novels to Encounters to published adventures, almost all of them tie in some way into one of these:

The Elemental Princes of Evil  

Maybe we could spend some quality time with some other major evil with 5E? Jubilex? Gruumsh? Dispater?

Now even though I listed the Elemental Princes as one of those common bad guys, they have been used far less than the other 4 so I am still interested, moreso than with any other adventure type announcement I have heard so far for 5th. I'll at least keep my eye on this one.

RPGaDAY - Day 21 - Favorite Licensed RPG

This one is fairly easy:

I played a ton of this, even if it was a long time ago.

I like this one too

I even like this version.

There is so much potential with Star Trek that I wish it had been better supported since the end of the 80's and FASA's license. Don't like playing with the stuffy Federation rules and their Prime Directive? Play Klingons! Like a more espionage type game - play Romulans!Want a war story instead of exploration? Pick one, there are a bunch! It's been around so long and is popular enough in gamer circles that while it may be a notch down from superheroes in pop culture today it is still a pretty well-known and easily referenced set of stories, images, and references. With Netflix and Amazon having all of the shows out there to watch pretty easily, it's about as accessible as a universe can be. A GM could set up a campaign by saying "watch episodes X, Y, and Z to understand what this game will be about" and that's a powerful tool to have to communicate your vision.

One of these days...

Runner Up:

I have not been a real DC guy over the years but this game has been working on me.

Four nice, full-color hardbacks and you have a complete comic book universe ready to go.

Even if you don't use the DC universe, there are so many characters, plots, relationships, agencies, and locations in these books that you could run for years even with the serial numbers filed off. Especially if you run Mutants and Masterminds.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 20 - Will Still Play in 20 Years

What was I playing 20 years ago? D&D, Mechwarrior, Rifts, Champions, some kind of occasional GURPS thing ... that's a very different list from now.  I can make some guesses though:

  • Dungeons and Pathfinders will still be a thing and we will probably still be playing it even as we approach retirement. Tenth Edition? Could be.
  • Some kind of superhero game will still be an option. Champions has managed to cockroach through multiple potentially fatal challenges, and as long as Steve Kenson is around I assume we will have some kind of M&M or ICONS to look forward to. By then maybe we will have a good, stable, ongoing licensed game for Marvel or DC. 
  • Maybe I'll finally have run through some of the Savage Worlds stuff by then. Necessary Evil 3 might be on the way then and I'll be looking forward to it. 
Whatever it is I wonder if we'll still be using battlemats and minis or if we'll be using holographic pieces like the star wars chess game? As long as I'm here I'll be doing it one way or another.

PHB's I Have Known

Yep, that's all of them. Bottom right comes in about 1980-81 for me (and yes that's the same book I bought with my allowance back then) and that upper left showed up on my doorstep yesterday.

I've had a lot of fun with these over the years and I can tell stories that came from games played with all of the previous versions. Even though I am still running Pathfinder and 4th edition games I am sure we will get around to giving the new one a try and then I'll have some stories to go with it too.

There are memories around the time each of these came out too. The joy of discovery, when all of this was so new with the first; the college days playing in dorms and at night at the IHoP of second; the fun of putting a new group together with old and new faces and new versions of classic adventures with third; the annoyance and disappointment of fourth gradually turning into a rediscovery of the fun and putting together another mix of old and new - including a new wife and some new kids; with 5th, well, right now it's all kid milestones for the last month - a 12th birthday, a lot of summer band practice, driving to and from the first job, and moving into a college dorm. If 5th has a good enough run, they may ALL be in college by the time 6th comes out.

PDF's may be the future of a lot of smaller RPG's, but I hope the biggest games, or the kickstarters for smaller games, give us a chance to acquire them as books. I'm pretty comfortable using an iPad at the table but there's something about being able to pick up the same book I held way back when that helps refresh those memories too - it's more than visual, it's texture, smell, weight, and all of the little nicks and dings they pick up in use. I'd say the largest ingredient in some of my AD&D materials after paper, ink, and glue is probably Domino's Pizza and Dr. Pepper. I took pretty good care of my stuff but hey, accidents happen, and Domino's was new here back then. We spent a lot of summer time scraping up our dollars so we could order pizza and keep on playing, especially before we could drive.

Anyway, I suppose I've "completed the set" for the time being - now to read the thing, and start the next chapter of a 30+ year story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RPGaDay - Day 19 - Favorite Published Adventure

So ... many ... choices ...

I have run a lot of published adventures over the years. In fact, if there is a published adventure for a game system that I have run, odds are I have run a published adventure for it. I know some people won;t even consider running one but I like them. I like the role they play in creating that shared experience between different groups, that ability to swap stories when you meet a new player and know exactly what they are talking about.


I've run this adventure is Basic, AD&D, AD&D 2E, 3E, and Next and I think I ran it in GURPS one time (don't judge, I was in college and it was an experimental time). It's just a nice package of base area, countryside, and concentrated lair of evil broken into small chunks. With newer systems you an add in more social encounters and skill challenges (heck, skill checks period) as needed. I've played through it a few times too.


I've played through it and run it and it's just a lot of fun. With this one some of the old save-or-die stuff felt like it truly fit the adventure. I'm hoping that new Iron Gods adventure path helps recapture some of that blaze of excitement when we first realized our D&D characters could encounter technological opposition.

What I probably should have chosen

I've played and run this set of adventures multiple times. 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition plus there's a conversion for 4th that I am sure will work nicely and I'd bet 5th can handle it just fine too. The prototype for a monster-specific lair type dungeon with some personality and interesting encounters. It's also the start of an epic series for more powerful characters.

Other games:

  • Shadowrun: Food Fight - it's how I always start my campaigns. It's small, but it gets things started nicely without a lot of setup.
  • Champions: Viper's Nest - the "Keep on the Borderlands" of the early Champions boxed sets. The fight in a construction yard is always a good one.
  • Savage Worlds: Neccessary Evil - OK it's a whole campaign but if you look at it as one big adventure it is epic and memorable
  • Mutants and Masterminds: Time of Crisis - I think it's the best published superhero adventure period. 
  • Gamma World: Legion of Gold - hands down. It's sort of Keep on the Borderlands-ish but it's even better in some ways in that the big lair of evil has to be tracked down and located first and is actively attacking settlements in the area.
  • Star Trek (FASA): Denial of Destiny - The first part especially feels like a very true-to-trek scenario, then the second part shifts focus a bit but is still true in a different kind of way. 
  • Traveller: Nomads of the World Ocean - It's not usually on a list of the "big" Traveller adventures but it felt more sci-fi to me than some of the others. It has nothing to do with Ancients or any military invasions but it has a solid focus on some different cultures and corporate stuff on a single planet.
  • Star Wars (d6): Tattooine Manhunt - a familiar location, an interesting turn of events, and I am probably giving it more weight because it was the first of the line, but having both played and run it I liked it a lot. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Message from the Plane of Amazon

Well, I guess I'll let you know how that looks in a few days.

RPGaDAY - Day 18 - Favorite Game System

Well this is a big one - how do you pick a favorite? Played the most? Run the most? Mechanic I like the best? Setting I like the best? There are people who play nothing but D&D. That hasn't been me for a very long time. It does say "system" so maybe I will focus more on the mechanical side. I think longevity has to come into play somewhere too as there are many games I like that I have only played a few times. 

This also leads to a new question: If some lesser-played game is my favorite, why don't I play it more? Every campaign is a consensus among the playing group. Maybe everyone has a different "favorite" so we settle on playing a game that is everyone's second favorite. Is that a good compromise? 

Enough questioning - favorite below:

Let's just call this one "d20". It kind of has to be this as I've run 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder more than anything else and it's been the "main game" for most of the past 14 years. It's a system so massively supported I could run nothing but published material for probably another 14 years and never run out of stuff. Think about how many campaign settings have been published for d20 since the core books launched in 2000. From the relaunched Dungeon magazine back at the start to the continuing series of Paizo Adventure Paths there is a mile-high pile of adventures to run. If I ever need some ideas on rules for underwater combat, mass combat, ocean or planar travel, hit locations, horror rules, or any other kind of mechanical adjustment or system, there are probably at least 3 books on it available out there somewhere. It's just a tremendous body of work that may never be equaled. True, it does make certain core assumptions as far as class and levels, but I'm OK with that, they work for me for quite a bit of what I like to do.

Plus, it gave us Mutants and Masterminds and a serious superhero RPG revival and that's another credit to the system. M&M also doesn't use class and level like traditional d20 does, which may point out just how truly flexible the system really is.

Also, it led us to 4E which is another system I enjoy running quite a bit.

Every game system conveys a certain feel or flavor in play and to me just reading the game is not enough to really get that flavor - you have to play it! Sometimes more than once. One example that I don't talk about a ton here is GURPS. Reading the GURPS rules can make it seem like a dry game but the system has always been a lot of fun whenever I've played. People who read HERO system get distracted with the numbers but in play it turns into chucking handfuls of dice and punching villains through walls. Based on that I have two more games to mention:

Honorable Mention:

I've discussed it quite a bit on the blog so I won't run on about it again but it's a great system and maybe the most flexible system while still keeping significant detail. If I was running it now, or had been running it recently, it would probably be #1

Perennial Contender

Another game that is a lot of fun to run regardless of genre. Cards for initiative, stones or chips for Bennies/Fate Chips, a simple fast system that plays exactly as advertised, and a ton of support material make for a damned fine game that is sometimes overshadowed by bigger marketing.

Notificational Monday - One Down, Three to Go

Well, Apprentice Red is officially a college student and living on campus as of yesterday. It's going to be a little weird around here for a while. until we settle into the new order of things. School officially starts for all of the kids next Monday and that's when the new routine will start sorting out. It's what he's supposed to be doing and where he's supposed to be but it's still an adjustment to not have one of them "underfoot" the way they have been. You just load up their stuff here, drive up and unload it there, walk around a little bit, then head back home and ... it's different.

Game-wise it's going to be a little thinner here. With Red away, Blaster here part-time, and Twilight not terribly interested, that pretty much leaves me and Who day to day so we'll have to see how that goes. The Pathfinder game will continue, Deadlands is just going to be slower, and we will figure something else out in between.

Regardless, I know he will do well, learn new things, and make new friends.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 17 - Funniest Game You've Played - Battle Born


I know there are tabletop games deliberately designed to be funny but I've always found those fall a little flat when you actually try to play them. They may be a lot of fun to read, but they never seem to play quite the same way. The ones that come to mind are Toon and Paranoia and I've seen people have fun with them but I wouldn't say they hit any higher than a good session with more traditional games. I will say that superhero games have a lot of potential for humor. From ridiculous concepts to the things players try to do during a game, the scope is wide open. That said I've seen whole groups paralyzed by funny just playing regular old D&D.

In the interests of putting the word out on a lesser-known game here's one I've run twice and had a lot of laughs both times:

Yes it came in a magazine and I think you can tell from the cover above just what the game is about. I can't explain the premise of the game any better than it does itself so here it is:

The central conceit is that each character is an armored trooper with a tough and extremely capable suit of powered armor but the documentation is almost non-existent and repairs are varying in quality. This means each character has somewhat different capabilities than the others in the party. Your skills are basically things you have figured out how to do consistently with your suit. Here's a character sheet:

That list of "EE Suit Functions" is pretty much your skill list but it is expandable. Everyone starts with 5 skills. Task resolution uses a simple table that's right there on the sheet. You can try to perform functions you don't have but the difficulty bumps up two levels.

The suit also functions as the equipment list as they can do pretty much anything. From the rules: "Most functions remain unlearned by most troopers and a suit will frequently surprise its user." Also "... humans are and will remain lazy - just learning enough to get by, or more importantly learning only what they consider interesting." Part of the fun of the game is figuring out new ways to use the suit to make things happen.

There are 4 races available that add some capabilities, mainly appearance, damage levels (see character sheet above) and different chances of getting one or more of the five "Traits". Since you're in an armored battlesuit there are no traditional stats like strength. Instead a character might be Durable, Fierce, Imperial, Inventive, or Spirited. This is determined randomly. One race is also Empathic and might have some Funky Powers available as well. Some skills are only available to characters with a particular trait.

There is a complete and fairly interesting character advancement system in here as well, complete with titles:

First, a character chooses to enter the game as one of the four beginning titles listed at the top of the page. Up on the character sheet you will see a list of nine categories of "deeds". A character has to achieve one of each of these to advance a level. When they do they can choose any same or higher level title that is connected to their current title. The "Ignobles" are purposefully left loose though there is a description of each and some examples of how they might be achieved. It's an interesting concept that I would like to use more.

All of this is contained in 40 pages of rules, setting, and examples. It's fairly dense text with sidebars and callouts that is a great example of how to distill a game down to its essence. There is also a 13 page adventure involving a mission to retrieve a universal translator. Its a real, complete adventure spread over several locations, with multiple scenes, complete with maps and diagrams.

OK, so where is the funny? Once players get into the spirit of the game and the loose/light nature of the rules, they start trying things, and those things are often pretty funny. Given the flexibility of the suit, and the likelihood they will not die from a single mistake or bad roll (the hero point mechanic here is "make-rolls" because spending one means you automatically made the roll) and they loosen up and start having fun. Trying to adapt their limited, yet broad capabilities like "hydraulic press" or "vacuum pump" into something useful leads to call kinds of interesting scenarios.

The included adventure helps too as it quickly turns into a Hitchiker's Guide-esque run of dealing with things like a ridiculous bureaucracy, a talking ships computer, used-spaceship salesmen, police robots, and some more traditional space stuff like hijackers, gas giants, and navigational difficulties. If the DM and the players are feeling it then the whole thing can be pretty funny. There were a few other adventures published in the magazine after this issue and I recall them being funny too but this one is a great example of what is possible.

I remember these as a couple of my funniest sessions so I'm calling it a funny game. If you want to talk funny sessions I have had quite a few in other games but this particular game seemed to bring it out pretty nicely. 

The current website for this version of Space Gamer is here.

Some background on the setting is here.

A primer on the rules (they use them in multiple settings) is here.

The site looks pretty old but the forums are still somewhat active. I'm not going to join it (paywall) but if anyone does let me know how it is.