Saturday, August 26, 2017

Day 26: Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

Sometimes I wonder if these questions get divided up among multiple people - "OK you write days 1-20, you do 11-20, and I'll do 21-31" and if some of those people don't have much actual experience running or playing these games. At a minimum some of them have language issues - like this one! An RPG doesn't "provide" anything! Maybe they meant which RPG company provides the most useful resources? Maybe they meant which game has the best support? Would this mean only "official" resources or would third party or player-generated stuff count here too? I'm not sure but I'll see if I can come up with something coherent below.

The best resources to have from a GM point of view:

  • A game you like - probably a book or a PDF
  • At least 3 interested and available players
  • A place to play
  • A regular opening on the schedule

That's all I need to run a good game and I've been known to run without one or two of those things. I suspect this question is aimed at "gaming stuff" like splatbooks, screens, mini's, dice, etc.  We can do better than that though, as I don't really think of that stuff as all that "useful" when running a game. 

  • A game with a solid forum where ideas and problems can be discussed has a leg up on others. Mutants and Masterminds, FFG Star Wars, and Pathfinder all benefit from this. I find a good forum particularly helpful with more mechanically complex games like PF and M&M. 
    • Paizo's Pathfinder forum is also extremely useful when running one of their adventure paths as a ton of player-generated material starts showing up as soon as the first volume is released - maps, player handouts, plot outlines, character portraits - all kinds of good stuff for actually running a game shows up in these. FFG's Star Wars forums provide a similar service for their adventures too. 
    • Green Ronin's M&M forum is a treasure trove of famous character writeups from well-known superheroes to things like folk heroes, video games, and D&D conversions. You could probably run an entire Marvel Universe campaign in M&M 2nd or 3rd edition without ever needing to write up your own stats. That's some useful material.

  • Something I need to run a lot of games is NPC and monster/enemy stats in an easily usable form. It's not something that is always available.
    • D&D 4E had the online monster maker which meant I could pull up any monster they had released in an instant, and I could also modify it on the fly with a few clicks of the mouse - that was incredibly useful for that game. 
    • FFG Star Wars makes 3 decks of cards that have complete stats and gear and some notes on different types of NPCs from stormtroopers to criminals to rebel officers. I suspect I could run an entire campaign using these  and nothing else for friends and foes alike. They are extremely useful, much like the templates from d6 Star Wars.
    • Pathfinder came out with some books - the NPC Codex and the Monster Codex -  that have pregenerated stats and gear for character types and monster types at every level of the game. That's a start but having them locked in a big hardback book doesn't really help me during the game because I probably need more than one of them at a time. HeroLab to the rescue! If you pick up the add-on for those books for HeroLab you can pull up whatever characters or monsters you need and save them as an "encounter" within HL. That way you can set it up and save it ahead of time or you can do it on the fly and wing it as you see fit. It's an odd fusion of formats as the codexes provide a big bunch of NPC data, but it takes HeroLab to make it useful in my opinion. 
    • M&M has been very good at providing these from the Instant Superheroes book of second edition to utilizing HeroLab as well. Many of their books have a HeroLab support option.
  • An aid to help players get up and running is another useful resource and Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics has a few of them:

  • Another card option: condition cards. I think Pathfinder's official set was the first one I saw but there are player-created versions for M&M and D&D 5E and I notice they are one of the first scheduled products for Starfinder. Any game that uses something like "conditions" as a mechanic usually has a whole set of them and no one memorizes what all of them do. This is a simple, inexpensive, easily-implemented way to solve that. 
  • HeroLab deserves a mention of its own - beyond just generating characters it has tools for running encounters during a game. The more stat-heavy your game of choice, the more useful this is.
  • The Pathfinder Combat Manager is something I've discussed before but if you are running that game and haven't checked it out you should probably take a look. It's what makes that game usable to me in spite of the detail and size of the Pathfinder Mechanics Universe. 
So looking at all of that I'd say "useful resources" for me covers things that make actual play of the game easier, and that more complex games benefit from these kinds of things even more. Books that add more features for player characters are not really "useful" to me as a GM. Supplements that add more sub-systems to a game are not necessarily useful in that sense either. The Items I have listed above are the things I have found that make starting a game and/or keeping a game moving that much easier and so are quite "useful". To sum up:
  • Resources where I can discuss or help prep outside of game time are useful for any game but are especially helpful with the more complicated games.
  • Online systems or resources I can use for prep or during the actual game are really nice, especially for more complex games.
  • Cards are a really useful thing even for simpler games. I like having NPC info or monster villian info right there, I like having rules tidbits like conditions easily at hand, and I like being able to toss someone a card with say an important piece of gear on it. The cards serve as both a reminder of the mechanics and an indicator of who has the item or who is suffering from the condition. I'd like to see more card type products for RPGs anywhere it makes sense. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Day 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

It's pretty simple-  Show Up! I don't need stuff, I don't need food, I don't need pats on the head - I want tuned-in reliable players!

  • Show up to the games - make them a priority once you commit!
  • Show some enthusiasm - put your phone down!
  •  Be honest - tell me what you like and I'll make sure we work in more of that!
That really covers it for me. Onward!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Day 24: Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more

I do not consistently pick up anything from any PWYW publisher so I do not have a perfect answer for this question. There is one small publisher that I have consistently purchased from so I'm going to talk about them: Fainting Goat Games

Mostly I know them as publishers of a lot of interesting little adventures for ICONS. Now they do work for other systems as well but ICONS is the one I use them for the most. The "Improbable Tales" series is almost completely great - an interesting scenario, stats for everyone and everything in the adventure, ideas for leading into the run, and ideas for follow-ups. They're roughly 20-30 pages long and cover some classic comic book situations.

They did a series of individual characters in a couple of different lines - Space Supers for cosmic style games and Justice Wheels for more typical four color games but with each one featuring  character who uses a vehicle.

They also did a city and cosmic setting supplement for ICONS under the Stark City line. If you're hunting for a setting or just want something to steal stuff from they are quite useful.

Anyway, that's my nomination!

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.