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.