Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Day 23: Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

Now we enter what for me is a less interesting section of the question list. Jaw-dropping layout? Does it matter that much? I mean, once you've read through it the first time it's more about usability than making statements.

The Underground RPG in the 90's had a strong layout and organization - the publisher really put some effort into these books. Strong enough that I still have a  positive impression 20+ years later. if you get a chance to flip through the core book you'll see what I mean.

The original LUG Star Trek the Next Generation core book made a strong impression in 1998 as well. it was the first full-color hardback rulebook I remember seeing. It felt like a no-holding-back no-expense-spared effort and made for a beautiful book.

More recently I really like the layout of ICONS: Assembled Edition. It's a nice clean design - much like the game itself.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Day 22: Which RPG's are the easiest for you to run?

D&D, Supers, and Star Wars - Done!

OK I can expound.

D&D: I've been running D&D for so long that it's pretty easy to just jump in and go. Some players, some characters, pick a setting and let's go. There's enough material bouncing around in my head that I don't really need any more than that. A strange combination of games I have run and games I have never run means I have all kinds of material to work with to make a game. The funny thing is that the further back you go, the easier it is for me to run as the newer editions have more rules and more numbers and more presumption of balance etc.

Supers: Once enough has soaked into your brain from comics/cartoons/movies all you really need is a system of some kind to resolve success/failure and you can just run with it. Punching people thru walls with occasional melodrama is easy enough to run and so much of the genre can be dialed up or down to taste on the fly that it's an immensely flexible type of game. Good rules will make it easier but the mechanics are not the main attraction. It's the ability to work dinosaurs, robots, ninjas, and aliens into a single session that is the attraction for a lot of us. Pick a system, sketch out a basic plot, let your players throw together some characters, and you're good.

Star Wars: Similarly, a lifetime of Star Wars movies, shows, books, comic books, and games means there's a bunch of it in my head. An RPG, regardless of system, means I get to let some of that out. Pick a system, get some characters together, and en media res - you're in a starship spiraling downward towards a planet/you're in the middle of a bar fight on the jungle world of zom-tek-zo/you're standing inside of an imperial base's computer core when the door slides open and thigns start moving!

Bonus: Star Trek! I haven't run a Trek game in forever but it's another example of soaking in it forever equaling a surplus of material in my head ready to spring forth. I talked about one approach here a few years ago. "What to do" is really not a question, and the choice of system is just a bonus!

When I see this question I immediately tend to think genre, not system. It occurs to me that maybe not everyone does. Regardless, I think focusing on the type of game and not the mechanics of the game tends to make for a better run.

Monday, August 21, 2017

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

I'm not typically a believer that "older is better" but in the case of this category ... it's going to be a lot of old stuff I suspect. So much of the RPG scene is caught up in 300-400 page giant core books supported by 10 - 100  supplements that it's hard to believe how little entire product lines used to be! I looked around my library and checked some page counts before I started writing this and it's amazing how book sizes and book numbers have crept up.

Ignoring D&D as the one example everyone knows about, here are some others:

  • Gamma World 1st-2nd-3rd editions are all right around 64 page booklets. The later two add in an intro adventure that adds some page count. It's incredible the amount of time we spent playing in these. Years and years of fun from one 64-page book and some adventures plus a whole lot of imagination and paper.
  • Original Traveller: three 48 page books that covered a fairly detailed character generation system, task resolution, combat, ship construction and combat, and system generation. We played for years with this just set and maybe an adventure. We did pick up supplements but the core box alone was a ton of material.
  • Marvel Super Heroes: a 16 page intro book and a 48 page campaign book along with some stat cards for famous characters had us off to the races. That universal table covered everything in a short and sweet way. There were adventures of course, but most of the early supplements added official writeups for Marvel characters, not new rules. 
Looking at my shelves and thinking back most of those early games and adventures were under 200 pages total even with a full boxed set treatment. Most of the time the ideas was "here is how to play mechanically, here are some adventure ideas, and here are a few notes about a setting" and that was it! Nowadays though the books are better in a lot of ways I think you could trim a lot of them back by a third to a half and it would only improve them. 

In most cases you get a bunch of pages on character creation, but you're going to get "advanced" character creation a month or two after the book releases with even more options. This is not new, Traveller in particular pioneered the "extra book for each character type" approach in the early 80's. Why not make a conscious effort to go minimal on this if you're just going to redo it anyway?

You get a chapter on the setting in the core book, but you're going to get another big book on the setting anyway in most cases, plus you may get regional or era-type sourcebooks that go into far more detail as well. Can we separate rules and setting as a matter of routine?

My #1 example of a game that does the most with the fewest words is this:

The 1st & 2nd editions of Champions gave us a detailed system for creating and playing superheroes in 80 pages. The boxed set added a 16-page adventure that added some ideas on locations and plot, an ongoing enemy organization, and some additional villains but even counting that you had a complete superhero solution in under 100 pages. I think that's pretty remarkable. Later editions may have ballooned it up into far more than that but in the early days Champions was one efficient little game system. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Day 20: What's the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

Well this one is pretty simple - but first, some history:

In the 80's it was conventions. If you wanted to look for older RPGs you pretty much had to go to a con. As a runner up, if you had a good game store in town they might have a used game section but most of the ones I saw were pretty small.

By the 90's we had Half Price Books! Used bookstores in general had been a minor source but by the 90's the HPB's in the DFW area were paying attention and had at least a shelf or two devoted to game books. Cons were still useful but were no longer as necessary. I noticed more local game stores carrying old stuff too. It was a great time because it was a treasure hunt! You pretty much had to do the leg work and drive around town to see what each store had. I had a regular circuit of stores I hit every week or two while driving between home, work, and friends.

Funny story - I sold Rifts Japan when I purged most of my Rifts collection in the late 90's. There was an identifying stamp I had put in most of my game books in those days to help me avoid getting them mixed up with everyone else's books. Years later I was rebuilding my Rifts shelf and I stopped in to a local HPB, saw they had a copy of Rifts Japan. I opened it up - yep, it was mine! I bought it and I still have it today. 

By the early 2000's we had two developing titans - Amazon and eBay. Over the last 10-15 years these two have steadily replaced the local game stores, conventions, and even my beloved HPBs as the go-to source for old game stuff. From miniatures, to books, to doo-dads like dice and screens they are typically my first and last stop. Beyond the vast selection of what has effectively become "America's Attic" and the leveling effect of national if not international price competition these two entities make it possible to plan to acquire certain games instead of being at the mercy of the local selection. I can decide to go pick up a bunch of Runequest 2nd edition supplements and have a really good chance of doing so as quickly as I want to instead of waiting for years to come across them in a shop.

And that's my final answer: eBay is the number one stop, with Amazon a close second and generally better when it comes to in-print games.

Optional bonus answer: if you don't care about having a physical copy of everything DTRPG has a lot of old stuff in PDF form. It takes up a lot less space and you won't lose it in a fire. Some of it is available in print-on-demand format too so it might be the best of both worlds.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Day 19: Which RPG features the best writing?

I don't think most RPG's have notably outstanding writing. To me good writing for a game should inspire one to want to play it just by reading a rulebook. That can be a real challenge as you're not writing a story, you're trying to tell other people how to play through a story! Bad writing can stand out but when it comes to rulebooks it's more about organization and layout than writing style when it comes to making a good book.

I suppose the intersection of these things can elevate or sink a book:

  • The first Dungeon Master's Guide, the original AD&D DMG, has some organization problems but the writing is somehow really inspirational, at least for a lot of people. Style/art/eye of the beholder etc. notwithstanding a lot of people I see cite it as an inspiration. 
  • Shadowrun 5th edition is ripped in almost every review for it's terrible organization. Regardless of the quality of the writing the poor organization overshadows it to the point that for many it's a problem just getting through the game. 
Of the games I think of when I think about the quality of writing:
  • The old James Bond 007 RPG was pretty atmospheric at the time. I remember thinking it really sold the concept well.Flipping through it today it still stirs some interest in playing an agent who lives that high class life while traveling the world in defense of England.
  • Shadowrun in general has done a pretty good job here over the years, at least through the first three editions. One example  - integrating a comments section on each page or section long before we had common internet usage made it that much more interesting to read. 
  • MWP's Marvel Heroic is another winner here. I thought it did a really good job of integrating rules, examples, and setting into a cohesive whole.
  • Right now I think Dungeon Crawl Classics does a really good job of this. There's a ton of flavor in the words in this book and it conveys a setting and a tone when the game really has no specific setting - that's quite a feat.

One thing I notice from my choices - I think it is easier to write better when you have a setting to build on and not just a rules system. References to people and places, references to historical or future events, equipment, even jokes are easier to integrate when you have a strong setting to work with in a book. Even D&D 5th edition makes specific references to D&D lore and is a better book for it. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

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

Well this is easy enough - Dungeons and Dragons! All editions combined this is easily more than half of my lifetime playing time.

Narrowing it down to a single version of the game, it has to be AD&D, the original. Because I had more time back then - so much more time! We ran multiple characters up into the teens - and even 20th once! We played through probably every published module, every Dragon adventure we could lay hands on, numerous homebrewed settings and adventures, and a bunch of random dungeons too.

It was about a ten year run for me as I didn't get an AD&D book until 1980 and it was the main game up until 2E came out in 1989. That covered all of junior high and high school and the first half of college and I spent a ton of time with it.

Admittedly, by the mid-80's we all knew its flaws but we didn't care that much - it was D&D! In between all of the others - Champions, Gamma World, Runequest, Twilight 2000, Traveller, Marvel, Star Trek, etc. it was the game someone was always ready to run, the game everyone had characters for, and the game everyone liked and knew how to play.

Honestly, that really hasn't changed. Some version of D&D has always been our core game, our baseline, and I do not expect that to change.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

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

I had to do a lot of thinking while standing in the main "library" room to answer this.

If we start counting different editions as different games then it's probably Hero 5th edition. It came out in 2002, I bought it that year, and I've never run it or played it with anyone. That's 15 years and that's a pretty long dry spell for me.

I've never run Aces and Eights and that came out in 2007 so that's ten years.

Underground is in this discussion too. It came out in 1993, I've owned a copy since around that time, and I think we made characters for it once but never had another session where we actually ran.

Hackmaster is in a similar situation: Had it since around 2001 but never ran it. We played around with making characters but never had an actual run and we were so wrapped up in 3E D&D at that time that it was never going to get serious attention.

If you don't count character creation as "playing" then those two would bump Hero 5 down to third place.

There are some other games that have been out longer that I have not played but I did not pick them up until later. I have a pretty decent collection of RPG's but unlike a lot of collectors I usually pick up stuff with the intent to play, not just store it on a shelf. Now I may have only run them once, but the vast majority of the games I own have been played at some point.

That said I own a fair number of RPG's I haven't run or played in 20+ years. I may have played them a ton in the 80's or 90's but for whatever reason I haven't touched them in the 2000's. They may have been superseded by later editions, no one else is interested in playing them, or tastes may just have changed but they still have some value to me and so they remain.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

Well, I try to always start playing a new game by running it as-is. That's how you should start it IMO. I'm always amazed at players who come into a game's forum and start talking about changing up rules before they've run a single session! You don't know !@$#$ about how a game works until you've played it. You don't know enough about how it really works until you've run 3 or 6 or 12 sessions. I don't understand those who are in such a rush to start switching stuff up. To me there's a huge difference between these two statements:

  • "Oh that doesn't look right - we need to change it"
  • "We tried it for our first few sessions and we didn't like it so we switched to this."
Anyway, right now we're playing our first few sessions of Edge of the Empire. Since it's effectively a referendum on the whole game system for my players I am trying to stay with the rules as written. If we find a problem I'll see how other people are handling it  - the rules have been out for 4-5 years now - and talk to my players about how we want to proceed. So far though it all seems to work as intended and we are having a good time. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I don't really "adapt" games that much these days as there are a ton of them out there nowadays and I can usually find one I like that covers what I want to do. If you want to broaden the question to using a system for multiple different types of games then I will say "Savage Worlds" - it's a great fit for a lot of genres and a good-enough fit for almost all of the rest. I've run and played different genres in GURPS, Hero, and d20 and SW beats them all in my opinion if I have to pick one system to run every possible kind of game. From cowboys to pirates to knights to jedi to juicers it works and works well in real, actual play. It always seems to be the "next" game on the list so we don't play it as much as I wish we did but it's a great game system and has been for a long time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Day 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play

Dungeons and Dragons. Any version.

  • Want to take a sailing ship to the edge of the world?
  • Want to stop a zombie apocalypse?
  • Want to start one?
  • Want to ride dragons into battle against evil?

From low-level rat fighting to building a castle and running a barony to invading the Nine Hells there's a ton of options for a campaign and nearly infinite directions the players and DM could take a campaign. I know because I've done it as a player and as a DM across a bunch of versions of the game.

Runner up
Any superhero game. The universe is yours! In fact, multiple universe may be yours! You can do basic street-level crime-fighting heroes if you like, and you could scale it up to repelling an alien invasion and invading the Nine Hells here as well!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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

This may be a little different than what the creators of the question intended but it's the first thing that came to mind so ...

We were playing D&D 2E. We had been playing this campaign for a while with just a few players - about 4 altogether, and we ran if at least two people were available. I was running it and it was going pretty well. One guy, one I had known for years at this point, had been increasingly "insurgent". He went against everything the other players wanted to do, he went off on his own when the party was trying to do something, and was just generally difficult in-game. I was willing to tolerate a fair amount of this in-game as people play in different ways and every character doesn't have to get along all the time.

Then he started to let it leak out outside of the game itself - talking smack about the players, insults, sneering condescension, and making implications about their work and personal lives.

So I threw him out.

I told him that was enough, right in the middle of the session. He popped off. I told him exactly what was going to happen if he didn't stop and think about what he was doing and who he was doing it too. he doubled down on his approach. This was at my apartment at the time so I told him to leave. Then I picked up his stuff,  took him by the arm, and escorted him out. He seemed surprised. It briefly interrupted the venom spewing from his mouth, but not for long. Once I shut the door though it didn't matter much as we didn't have to listen to him anymore. We went on with the game and the campaign and didn't miss him at all.

So what this experience changed for me is that I don't tolerate disruptive, hostile, angry players. We all have bad days sometimes but you don't get to take that out on everyone else who showed up to the game. If you consistently show up mainly to screw up what everyone else is doing then you need to go somewhere else.

Note that this is not really a one-time-incident policy. It has to keep happening for me to consider telling someone to leave. It's happened one or two other times in the 20+ years since that first incident.

I see posts on messageboards every week asking how to handle difficult players and some of them I totally understand. Others though ... the only thing I do not understand is why you're asking what to do instead of telling what you've already done. If I have a group of 4-6 friends gathered together to do anything and one of them starts screwing it up for everyone else, I'm going to ask them to leave. That's just a basic social thing, it's not specific to tabletop gaming. If as an adult you can't get along with other adult humans who have a shared interest for a few hours, well, it's not my job to train you.

When I'm running a game, particularly at my home, one of my responsibilities is to protect the players time - to make them feel like we actually did what we said we were going to do when we set the thing up. Allowing someone to disrupt the game beyond a certain point is a failure on my part to do that, a failure as a host. I don't like failing at something like that so I don't let it happen.

It takes a lot of effort to get a group of people together and play something consistently. Add in whatever prep time the GM spends on setting up a campaign and then on each session. It's a lot of time and work. Do not let that one person ruin it for everyone. At some point:
  • They're not acting like a player
  • They're not acting like a friend
  • They're actively damaging things for everyone else. 
That's when it's time to cut them out and get on with things with the people who are there to work with the group and have an enjoyable time.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Day 12: Which RPG has the most inspiring art?

This is a little tougher because I don't usually distinguish between cover art and interior art - I tend to think a game looks good or it doesn't.

That said, my initial thought was the FFG Star Wars line because it is really well done, consistent across books and lines, and makes for some very pretty game books. I don't know that it's really "inspiring" though. The Star Wars movies and shows and books and comic books and video games are already pretty inspiring and so it's more reinforcing an existing thing than starting a fire on its own. Also, while the illustrations are both numerous and well done they do not generally show you things that your characters might be doing during a game - they're Star Wars pictures for sure, but they are not really Star Wars RPG-specific pictures:

  • Here's a star destroyer flying near a planet
  • Here's Han Solo sitting at a bar
  • Here's a droid peering through some binoculars
  • Here's a scout walker
  • Here's a couple of characters standing still and looking "at the camera". 
So while they look good they are not really "inspiring" me to get a group together and roll some dice. They confirm the setting but do not really enhance it, in an RPG sense. 

So now that I've talked about what doesn't do it for me, here's one that does: Dungeon Crawl Classics. Why?
  • It's all strong black and white art.
  • It tends towards a "weird" vibe. You don't always know what you're looking at.
  • It shows things that could easily (and maybe should, easily) happen during the game.

It does, for me anyway, build an interest in playing the game as I read through the rulebook or an adventure. Heck, even the maps are more evocative of some lost document than in most other games and yet they remain as usable if not moreso than most others. 

Yes, some of it is the old-school thing which does have a certain appeal to those of us who started in that earlier era. 

But the very unexplored/unexplainable/rough around the edges tone of much of the art enhances the atmosphere of the game. We don't know everything about the setting. We can;t instantly identify every monster that is shown. We don't know why that character looks that way and this other character looks completely different as far as dress, gear, and attitude, and in the game you aren't going to know everything either!

When it comes to art-matching-expected/designed-tone-of-game I can't think of a better example than this game.

One more for the road:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Day 11: Which dead game would you like to see reborn?

I'm pretty sure I've referred to this game already in exactly this way already but I am happy to preach it again!

  • The Marvel movies are incredibly popular worldwide right now and have been for 9 years - so there's an audience and a chance to bring in new players.
  • It's a system that does not require miniatures or a map grid to play - all you need is one rulebook and some dice - so it's a low cost of entry compared to a lot of games. 
  • It has a ton of background available in the comics to mine for characters, villains, plotlines, set pieces ... everything really, and those comics are as cheaply available now as they have ever been - so inspiration is all over the place. 
It was a really good game with the potential to become great with just a little more time. I don't blame MWP for killing it as I assume the licensing terms from Marvel itself were the biggest problem. If it had a 5-year run and all of the supporting material and expansion one would expect from that kind of run - see FFG's Star Wars as of this year for an example - then I would not feel this as much as I do. Right now it feels like it was cut down before it really had a chance to develop. That doesn't mean I won't be doing something with it, it just means I'd love to see those exact same product brought back and then expanded.

Runner Up

Gamma World. I mean we have Mutant Crawl Classics emerging now but with recent kickstarters for Metamorphosis Alpha and for Top Secret the Revised Retro Game is clearly a trend - so why not the one I like best?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Day 10: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

For newer games: Drive Thru RPG or Amazon for quick reviews

For older games:

For more in-depth reviews: I search for them directly and usually end up on someone's blog.

There is an element of risk here: For a $2 PDF I don't need a lot of depth, but for a $60 hardback I want a pretty good breakdown of what's inside.

A few more tips:

  • I find later reviews tend to be better than the first wave. That initial wave of reviews seems to be colored with not-always-justifiable enthusiasm because it's NEW! You don't have much choice when looking at a brand new game but if it's been out a while and is just new to you, well, you will likely have at least a few to choose from. 
  • I find people who played earlier versions of a new game will give you a lot more information on whether specific problems have been fixed than people new to the game or setting. You can get good information form both but it's often very different information. 
  • I weigh reviews based on actual play far more heavily than "I read the book" reviews. I've read a game that looked great on paper and played horribly, and I've read books where the game looked like a mess but once we started playing it just snapped into place. Don't just tell me what the table of contents lists - tell me how it plays! At the very least how about you try to make a character and describe how that went! 

It's not enough to just read the book - you have to play at least one session, preferably more like 3+ sessions, to really get a feel for how a game runs. Those are the golden reviews.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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

This probably is not a shock to anyone who has read the blog lately but I am a big fan of running Star Wars in movie-sized chunks. I don't run it as a sandbox. I don't run it completely open-ended. Unlike a lot of other RPG's I really think a Star Wars game feels truest to the spirit of the movies when it's run with a definite plot with some definite end conditions.

  • It may be a classic quest: We need to find something or someone and deliver that to a particular place, possibly by a particular time. 
  • It may be a classic supervillian type plot: bad people are planning bad things that are bad for a lot of people, including the PC's. Discover it, react to it, then stop it are the traditional parts of the campaign. 
  • It may be a war story: gather a group of specialists and then undertake a dangerous mission for one side in a war. 
Any of those basic frameworks is a great setup for a movie style limited campaign. Add in other elements to taste - greed, personal loyalty, combat prowess, political entanglements, or even discovering more about the Force - and you can build exactly the kind of game you want to run and your players want to play.

The long term connectivity payoff is allowing characters from prior "movies" to appear in later runs. You don't have to have the same group of characters or players, but bringing in just one PC ties this story to that other story and pretty soon you're weaving tales of a connected universe, not just one party. 

Runners up:
  • Supers - you can run a good superhero tale in ten episodes or less. Here's one example of such a game.
  • Shadowrun - a classic "shadowrun", including the setup for the run and the inevitable complications and betrayals that follow, are easily covered in ten sessions or less.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics - pick a 0-level adventure. Run it. Pick a 1st level adventure. Run it. Continue. You will see an incredibly enjoyable progression from pitchfork-wielding nobodies into wizards and warriors of notable power over the course of these games. 
The big difference for me in most of these limited campaigns is that they benefit immensely from being planned from the beginning as a limited campaign. I like a sandbox campaign just fine and some games (Traveller springs to mind) just flat-out work better in that mode. Others though, feel like they were written for exactly this kind of scenario (a fixed number of sessions) and the games listed above are my top choices. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

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

This is an easy one for me: ICONS. I've written a ton about it, I've played quite a bit of it, and it is still hands-down my champion for quick and easy play.


  • If I couldn't play ICONS and had a short window I'd probably go with one of its parent games - Marvel Super Heroes, the 80's TSR RPG. Hand out some character cards and get to fighting evil!
  • Another surprisingly quick option is another Marvel game: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. Again, hand out sheets for Iron Man or Spider Man and go!
  • Outside of this I'll go with "Savage Worlds" - characters are fairly quick to create and gameplay moves right along, especially with a session or two of experience and it feels like you're getting a lot done. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Day 7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

"Impactful" is a pretty general word but I'll do what I can here:

  • Some of my players still talk about the Star Wars game I ran probably ten years ago now. That's a good sign it had an impact. Sometimes having a definite start-middle-end in mind is a good thing and makes your game stronger. 
  • I ran a Greyhawk campaign 20 years ago with just 3 players running back and forth between Dyvers and the City of Greyhawk that comes up more often than I would have expected it too. That's a good sign.  Sometimes fewer players lets you focus in on them and good things happen.
  • Different parts of my 3rd and 4th edition games come up with different players. This often involves a character death, a TPK, or a character doing something really risky or stupid. It's not always the character who dies or did the thing either - sometimes they were just a witness and it was still pretty impactful. 
For me there are a few candidates - TPK's, unexpected character moments that really changed a game, and wildly different approaches to adventure situations than I ever expected. 

The one I would rank at the top though is from a recent M&M session that I documented here. It was a new player, a new and rather unusual character, a tense situation, and something that just developed by chance and it was awesome, easily the most interesting thing to develop in my last ten years of superhero gaming and a high point among all of my sessions regardless of genre or system. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day 6: What I'd do gaming every day for a week.

Weirdly, this is such an unrealistic scenario that I'm having trouble coming up with something spectacular. It assumes that not only am I free, but my players are free too, which is even less likely.

Ideally this would translate to a group of friends staying somewhere away from it all like a cabin on a lake with the goal of playing for a week straight. I'd like at least 3 of us to have prepared campaigns just for this week. Maybe two of them are RPG's and the third is a miniatures campaign or a boardgame tournament of some kind to change things up.

I get I am focusing on the setup here more than the actual game - so what would I actually do?

  • One attractive option would be to run a big D&D adventure. My initial thinking is "Temple of Elemental Evil in one go!" - that would be a lot of fun and a strong way to kickoff a new campaign. At a higher level, running the whole Giants series one right after another would be fun too.  Running one of these big scenarios all the way through with  the same group of players in the space of a week would be a blast.
  • The big Star Wars adventure: A new group gathers, maybe new characters with a smattering of returning favorites, a new mission/problem beckons, and resolving that is the first part of a "trilogy" of adventures played out over the week. Finish one, take a break in between, then start the next one. This could be a set of stories running parallel to the movies or it could be completely original and set in say the Old Republic. Come out of the week with an epic adventure completed and some fun stories to tell. 
  • Star Trek Reboot: Something a little similar to the 2009 Trek reboot - a new crew gathers on a new ship for a simple shakedown cruise and then events spiral out of control and the PC's are caught up in an epic Trek story that could be the foundation for an entirely new campaign. The "bonding" that happens running a set group of characters through a bunch of table time in a short period like this would be a really nice setup for a new campaign start. This would involve Klingons and/or Romulans, maybe time travel, some new aliens, a threat to the Federation, and at least one bar fight. This is a "movie" adventure, not a "one episode of a TV series" adventure so ships might not make it, characters might not make it, and a lot of standard assumptions about Trek status quo are on the line. 
  • Invasion! A 6-issue limited series: A superhero campaign based off of an alien or dimensional invasion. Ideally this would be a special game that takes place in a campaign that is already up and running. Instead of dealing with bank robbers or one mad scientist or some "hunteds" this would be an epic story that would see familiar NPCs and institutions and possibly the very home setting of the game threatened with occupation or destruction by a new menace. Of course, some old menaces would likely ally with this new force, but some old menaces might instead team up with the PC's to help fight it off. Tying it to an ongoing superhero campaign makes the people and the places that much more important when they are threatened. The events of this special mini series would at least "leave a mark" on the ongoing campaign. Characters and NPCs might fall, tragedy and/or heroism could affect the city and the people who live there, and some destroyed landmarks might never be rebuilt, instead becoming a park with memorials to the events and casualties of the invasion.
  • A Savage Worlds plot point campaign: There are a fair number of these and I think it would be entirely possible to run them in the course of a week mixed in with other games: Necessary Evil, 50 Fathoms, Evernight, one of the Deadlands plot points, Slipstream, Tour of Darkness - all of them are cool and depending on the group and the general mood I know I could pick one and run a rollicking good game in the course of a week .

So all of these represent an opportunity to me to either kick off a new campaign in spectacular fashion, or to celebrate an ongoing campaign with an epic special run that affects the ongoing game. Either way it should be somewhat self-contained so that someone new could join in and make a meaningful contribution, or so that even if you never played another session you had a complete run that made some kind of interesting story to tell later. Also note I am not really tied to any particular edition or version of a game - just whatever makes the most sense for that group at that time. 

I don't think it will ever happen but I think it would be a ton of fun. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Day 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

I think this question has come up before and my answer is always the same: Shadowrun. That single scene covers almost everything you do in Shadowrun and shows what makes it different: guy plugging in to computer, girl with a gun and some kind of magic effect, and then indian-painted guy with dual sub-machine guns, all in a dirty part fo town with a backdrop of skyscrapers and opposition - Yeah, that covers a lot of ground.

It's so perfect for the game that second edition kept the same cover - how often do you see that?

Later edition still have nice art but 3rd kind of lost it's purpose and became "generic action scene", 4th goes back to something similar to these covers (a step in the right direction), then 5th is so busy I can't tell what's going on.

My runner-up hasn't changed in a long time either:

Gamma World has had some incredibly evocative covers and this one really pushed my buttons as a kid when it was current - armed men going into a ruined, overgrown city - please tell me more! That is a whole bunch of what the game is about. Plus the whole style is pure 60's-70's sci-fi art and it really sets the tone.

Then with second edition we get this:

This is another winner with Giant Deadly Robot acting out against a human with a stone axe and some kind of mutant with an energy weapon - yep, that's pretty much Gamma World. The cover of the rulebook inside the box was pretty solid too:

Mutant with pistol and shield and another with a fusion gun against blaster guy on a horse? Yep, that's the game!

Honorable Mention:

It's not a rulebook but it is the origin of the legendary Stop Sign Shield! This picture, again, is totally in line with what a Gamma World adventure looks like.

In contrast ...

There are lots of good covers out there, and even more bad ones - static posed hero, static posed monster, symbol of something relevant to game + title of game = boring and non-evocative. They may be pretty at times but they are often just too plain. The covers for 5th edition D&D and for FFG Star Wars are usually pretty and well done technically but they don't tell me much about the game itself. Most Pathfinder rulebook covers have some kind of action happening and so in my mind are a step above. Look at Numenera or The Strange too - what do they tell you, visually, about the game or the setting? Even the new Trek game, for example, on the collector's edition has a cover picture that is a close up shot of a starship hull.

WHY? It's incredibly boring and tell you nothing about the game! At least the standard version has some characters doing something! It's a great example of "pretty but uninformative". People get excited about Star Trek ships, sure - but not hull textures. Not really.

It's an interesting question today and I ended up writing quite a bit more about it than I expected.

More tomorrow!

Friday, August 4, 2017

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

Warhammer 40,000!

OK maybe that doesn't count.

How about "Star Trek Online"?


I'm in a weird place here compared to my usual routine. I've run 3-4 sessions of a bunch of games over the last year - D&D, Pathfinder, Mutants and Masterminds, Deadlands, and Star Wars. In some ways this makes me happy as it means we're broadening our experiences and playing a lot of games. That said, we're not being very consistent. Hopefully the continuing focus on my Beyond the Rim campaign will give us some stability here, so I'll go with "Star Wars" as my final answer.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Day 3: How do you find out about new RPGs?

This is a pretty straightforward question so this will be one of the shorter entries this month:

  • EN World - it's mainly focused on D&D type games but it ends up being the biggest tabletop RPG site and a lot of things are announced/noted/promoted there.
  • Kickstarter - once you've done a few you tend to get notified of related projects, one version of the Network Effect.
  • Other Blogs - I have a regular rotation of blogs I read and a lot of time they have news of a new game that I may not have seen elsewhere. If I like the blog enough to keep coming back and they think a new game looks interesting then there's a good chance I will feel the same way.
  • Podcasts - similar to blogs above but also really good for things related to the game the podcast covers. Alternate rules, adventures, or a new game by the same writer or from the same company.
  • Company Websites: Pinnacle, Green Ronin, Paizo, and FFG are all places I visit regularly.  
That's about it!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Day 2: An RPG You Would Like to See Published

This is a tougher question than it would have been a year ago:

  • There's a new Star Trek game. It's not my favorite set of rules but it's in print and appears to be well on the way to being well-supported. This would have been my #1 answer.
  • I'm learning to at least like the new Star Wars game (new = published 5 years ago apparently) so I don't feel the need to call for a new version of that.
  • Cubicle 7 is going to publish a new version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, one based on the 1st and 2nd editions of the game. Those are the two I like best so I'm pretty happy with this news. When FFG a) went with a funky-dice system for 3rd edition and b) then stopped publishing the game altogether I was disappointed. I haven't run a ton of WFRP compared to say D&D but I do like having it around.  
  • There's a mechanically decent version of Rifts available.
  • Classic Runequest is available again.
  • Mutant Crawl Classics will be out soon and is effectively a modern version of Gamma World
  • Heck, we just had a Kickstarter for a new version of Top Secret!
So getting something "old" so to speak out has been handled in a big way over the last few years. That's usually where I feel the need - when an exiting game or setting goes out of print. Let's start there:

The obvious choice: a Warhammer 40,000 RPG. We had several, they all went out of print when FFG's license ended, and was never all that thrilled with them anyway. What makes for a wonderfully grim and gritty system at the Warhammer fantasy level gets pretty bulky and feels very different when you try to use it in a setting with power armor, missile launchers, and tanks. So I would like to see a new 40K RPG - completely new, not a reprint. There are Rifts-level power differences between what you might think of as typical characters in a 40K RPG so it's an interesting challenge for sure. 

Bonus Wishlist Item: Marvel Heroic. We have Cortex Plus books, we have 60 years of Marvel and even more of DC, but I would be ecstatic if somehow someway someone started publishing (or re-publishing) a licensed superhero game that used it. That was way too interesting a system that was cut down way too early.

But if we were looking for something completely new what would it be?
  • Semi-original premise #1: "Fantasy Roman Empire" - the setting is the early  Roman Empire but with all of the trappings of a typical D&D world. Instead of just barbarians on the borders, how about orcs, elves, dwarves, etc. There have been various attempts at this over the years but none of them have ever taken off. I'd like to see some decent designers and writers backed by an experienced company try to make this work. There are enough interesting twists to make this stand out in my opinion. Then of course you get the "Mythic Greece" sourcebook or alternate campaign for it and we're rolling in the classics + dragons.
  • Semi-original premise #2: "The New World" - The game assumes a Renaissance Europe type background and that you are part of a group heading out to settle the "new world" only recently discovered. This could go somewhat old-school with some resource management aspects but characters would lean more towards the lighter end of things. The GM side though ... his fun is in picking out and setting up exactly what is waiting for the players across the sea. Is it simply native tribes at a severe technological disadvantage? Maybe it's a far more fantastic threat - orcs and dragons? Maybe it's technological - the "new" world is actually the older world, one ruined by warfare or technological collapse centuries ago so you get flintlock-wielding colonists threatened by mutants and robots. Maybe it's a continent controlled by intelligent apes. I think an RPG with a set starting point for the players that caters to multiple scenarios for discovery detailed by the GM would be a lot of fun to play. 

Slightly more original premise:

  • "Super Rock Band: The RPG" - Select your character's musical specialty, their talent level, their skill level, their personal charisma, and various physical traits. Maybe a "signature move" or item. Keep the rules fairly light - somewhere between FFG Star Wars, d6 Star Wars, or ICONS. I don't know that the purely mundane rocker world is enough to sustain a campaign so you can also select their "other" job:
    • Maybe they solve mysteries as they travel around the world (+Scooby Doo or Josie and the Pussycats)
    • Maybe they secretly fight crime as costumed heroes (+Teen Titans or The Impossibles)
    • Maybe they protect the world against supernatural evil (+Supernatural or Hellboy)
    • Maybe they protect the world against alien invasion (+ Dark Conspiracy or The X-Files)

      The focus would be on running single-session "episodes" where the band travels to a new city, uncovers some kind of problem, solves it, then plays their gig as the finale, getting bonuses or penalties for what they did during the session. Good performances increase their fame/power/money, while bad ones damage it in some way. This would be a sort of live XP system.

      System-wise I'd start with the d6 system, add a new stat or replace one of the old ones with "Musical" and have a separate skill for each instrument and singing style. Default is stat + skill so a really talented musician could fill in for a mind-wiped bass player even if they had no real skill in "bass guitar" Work in something like FFG's Obligation system from Edge of the Empire to give the group some other pressing issues to deal with and I think you could have a ton of fun with the right group. I think it would be a great one-shot or con type game too.
That's enough words for now - more tomorrow!