19 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #19

Which RPG features the best writing? 

In certain circles, I'm hearing Blades in the Dark for this...but it's the new hotness, so that's to be expected. A couple of years ago, I'm sure everyone would have said Apocalypse World because it was oh so edgy with its over-use of expletives.

In other circles, I'm hearing Blue Medusa, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or anything by that edgy crowd of OSR personalities who values shock factor over elegance of writing or game mechanisms...and who apparently scream down anyone who compares their work to the Emperor's New Clothes.

These are certainly all games that speak to a specific audience, often an audience of fanatical gamer cultists on one side or the other of the mysterious tribalist division between story-games and the OSR.

In my mind, the best RG writing goes back to the work that first exposed me to Jeremy Keller, Chronica Feudalis

This game is written in the form of an artefact, dug up from the archives of 12th Century monks. It's the kind of technique I first remember seeing in Castle Falkenstein, and while I believe that game did it well, Chronica Feudalis takes it to the next level.  

Dispatch Guide

I've almost finished the Dispatch Guide, which is basically a book of ideas and hints for the player who takes on the GM/Arbiter/Referee role in a session of The Law.

The poll I put forward to Google Plus seemed to agree the idea of a mysterious overlord in the shadows might be a good idea for the cover image...so here's where my current thoughts lie.

Hopefully I'll be releasing this shortly...another couple of editing passes and we'll be done.

18 August, 2017

Images from the Sprawl (part 2)

Here's the second batch of images. They spread a bit more in subject matter and experimental style...but generally maintain the vibe.

It's going to be tough finding stock imagery of characters in the Agency armour if I'm planning to do more in this style, and that's probably why this type of imagery is going to be used more for the generic elements of the setting. Maybe I'm just going to have to construct some cosplay armour and take some of my own stock photos.

RPGaDay2017 #18

Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

I've probably sent more time LARPing than anything else, and for this the most hours of preparation, telephone call back-room dealings and politics, engagement on a regular basis, all point to White Wolf's Minds Eye Theatre.

Including the five years I portrayed a Russian Silver Fang Ragabash, as the Sydney Sept Alpha of thirty or forty regular werewolf players. The girl who was to become my wife played the Beta of the Sept.

Close behind this was my time in the Sabbat, where global connections led me to portraying a member of the Sabbat Inquisition, a Salubri Antitribu.

When it comes to tabletop gaming, I hate to say it but it's probably Rifts. Those formative years at the end of high school back in the mid 90s have a lot to answer for.

17 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #17

Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

Even if I haven't played a specific game, I think I've mined almost everything on my shelves for soe kind of inspiration at least once...

...but I'm sure I'm probably missing something.
Hmm...hang on a sec. Let me go over to my shelves and take a look.

[A few minutes pass]

Let's see... there's a first edition Wraith (dated 1994), with a second edition beside it and a bunch of sourcebooks that I never got around to playing, but they were certainly mined for ideas in other campaigns I've run, even if those ideas only saw influence in minor parts of a fantasy campaign or as crossover elements in a Vampire-Sabbat/Werewolf/Mage chronicle.

There's an original AD&D book (1978), but I think I actually picked that up more recently when a housemate moved away and left the book behind. And I have both played a version of D&D, and played an OSR-styled game, so I can't in good conscience say that I haven't played this.

Oh...there's a winner.

I got this in high school back in 92-93, thinking I'd play it because myself and a few friends had played a couple of games of Iron Crown Enterprises' MERP, and one of those friends had decided to buy Rolemaster as a more advanced game. We talked about doing something sci-fi, so we chipped in together and bought a copy of Space Master. Then we actually played two or three games of Rolemaster and figured it was cool in some ways but really unwieldy. Ever since then, Spacemaster has sat on the shelf knowing full well that I'll probably never find the right group to run it.

It mostly sits on the shelf for nostalgia value.

Images from the Sprawl

I've been on a bit of a roll with my illustration over the last few days...not sure how much longer it will last, and I've got some assignments to do (which usually kill my momentum).

If you're connected to me via other forms of social media, you've probably seen a few of these, but here's the first dozen...some of which were shared earlier. I'll try to post a dozen images each day, while this spurt of creativity lasts.

16 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #16

What RPG do you enjoy using as it is?

The last RPG I used as is, in a campaign setting, was Pathfinder...I didn't enjoy it.

The last RPG I used as is, in a one-shot, was Dungeon World...despite being driven by the Apocalypse engine, I did enjoy it.

But as I said in the last entry, I don't enjoy using many RPGs as they stand. I'll always try them at least once to see how they're "meant to work", but inevitably I feel the need to start tinkering.

RPGaDay2017 #15

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I have trouble playing anything straight (which is basically going to screw up my answer for #16 as well). When it comes to adapting games, I usually streamline things when I play them, forgetting a lot of rules unless they are really necessary to the specific situation being resolved...and even then I might just tweak the rules a bit to make things more story focused than mechanically focused.

I like the idea of using a central mechanism of play (which is why I liked the videos mentioned in my last post), and if I think one of the offshoot mechanisms of a game is just too unwieldy, I just shift everything back to that central concept.

I guess I enjoy adapting the various incarnations of D&D, because there is so much to adapt in them...so many mechanisms to strip out, so many fiddly bits to ignore. White Wolf's World of Darkness stuff is similar in this regard.

Other than that, I love adapting and modifying my own game systems. Running them a couple of times in a convention format with a few completely different groups of players, then tweaking them before going through the cycle again with a completely different group of players. The cycle iterates, and I never quite get it perfect, because my ideas of perfection continually evolve, but it's a fun journey.

So currently, I have the most enjoyment adapting The Law.

Core Mechanics

+Paul Stefko has started producing a series of podcasts/vlogs called "Core Mechanics".

The episodes are quick, simple, and provide a basic overview of fundamental systems in a range of games. At the time of writing, he's got five of these episodes available and I can't wait to see where he goes next.

It's similar to what I tried a few years ago here on the blog with my "Game Mechani(sm) of the Week" series, so it is i teresting to see someone else's take on the subject matter.

I suspect future episodes will focus on "Fate" and the "Powered by the Apocalypse" engine, but in that latter case it will be interesting to see whether he assumes the core mechanic as the dialogue of alternating MC-move/player-move in a narrative framework (kind of like the way he describes investigation in the Gumshoe games as a non-dice oriented phenomenon, as compared to the rolling of dice associated with other skills...which is considered a non-core idea)...or if he'll focus on the "roll 2d6, add modifiers, compare to chart of 6-or-below/7-9/10-or-above" which ends up heading in all sorts of directions depending on the specific move taken.

Anyway, go over and have a look. Subscribe. I want to see him do more of these... He might even get around to doing one of my games once the big games have been dealt with.

14 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #14

What RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Another question that excludes a few examples while leaving a massive assortment of other options to choose from.

A lot of games designed as one-shots, or games that tell a single story repetitively aren't really good answers here, but it would be interesting to see systems like this challenged beyond their intended confines. I do prefer a well structured but robust system that can handle a variety of situations without breaking for this style of play.

Perhaps a better way to answer this might be to consider the games that I have successfully used for this style of play. The problem is that when I run long term games, I tend to throw away most of the system, only using the bits I need when I need them...that might be a magic system I like, or the inevitable combat mechanisms when things escalate to the point where they can't be avoided any longer. If a game can let things simmer nicely, then step up to the challenge when we need to do something funky, then that works for me.

One of the longest campaigns I've ever run was a globetrotting Werewolf the Apocalypse game...lasting through weekly sessions for almost two years... more than 20 years ago. I'd do it again, but maybe with a variety of shifter types.

Actually, now that I think about it further, I don't think the rule systems are the mediating factor for what makes a good long term play experience, I think it's more about the richness of setting. That doesn't necessarily mean high word count, but good touchstones that can prompt coherent story. The whole coherent bit is where I rule out Rifts, even if it does have a metric-buttload of sourcebooks. 

I've done long form Legend of the Five Rings, and would similarly do it again because I love the depth of the setting.

I'd love to play a long term Castle Falkenstein campaign...

...actually it's been so long since I've done a long term campaign of anything, that I'd probably be willing to play almost anything in that format.

13 August, 2017

Image Experimentation

I've been working on some imagery for the upcoming Dispatch Guide for The Law. Trying to offer some variation on the illustrations to show a slightly different flavour for these characters, while maintaining a sense of continuity with the existing setting. 
This particular member of dispatch, in one of the Towers of Law, working away at his computer is probably what I'll be working with.

I also worked on some more diverse imagery, using photo-manipulated stock, and while I really like the way they've turned out they don't quite fit the way I'm trying to take "The Law"...maybe I'll use them for a game about bounty hunters, or undercover agents in the Sprawl.

RPGaDay2017 #13

Describe a game experience that changed the way you play.

I've seen that quite a few people have been tripped up by this question. Mostly because they already answered this when they gave their response to the 7th Day with its question about impactful sessions.

So, if I'm going to answer it differently, I think that one of the experiences that really opened my eyes to the potential of play styles was the first convention I attended back in 1994 or 95. I've tried looking it up, but since the convention collapsed pre-2000, there isn't a lot of online evidence regarding its existence.

In my home groups, I was always the default GM, so I attended the convention in the hope that I'd get the chance to play. It didn't quite work out that way, but it did work out by showing me numerous styles of GMing and learning that even the "professionals" were often making it up as they went...in fact the most professional GMs and the ones with the games in highest demand were the ones who ad-libbed and played reactionary games rather than trying to lead their players through a story.

...but that's more about which experience changed the way I thought about being a GM.

For the experience regarding play, I think the Raven's Nest game was the biggest eye-opener. This was a game incorporating miniatures and live-action in the manner of a Braunstein. There weren't enough GMs to keep everyone occupied during this game, so a lot of it ended up being a case of players telling their own stories and interacting with each other until dramatic moments when a GM finally finished with one group of players and potentially came to ours. The big lesson here was that you didn't need a GM to have immersive fun. Sometimes they just got in the way.

12 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #12

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

I seriously can't fault the people who are responding to this question with the groundbreaking artwork of Tony Diterlizzi in the Planescape books. The moment I opened one of the books in my local gaming shop (back in '94, I think the shop might have been "The Tin Soldier" or maybe "Napoleon's"), I knew I'd have to run a campaign there.

But lots of people have gone that way, so let's dig a little deeper.

The early Vampire the Masquerade stuff was really evocative, in the sense that you were seeing mean bad-ass brooding types, and this was an "awesome game where you could be a mean bad-ass too". Most of the other early World of Darkness stuff had that kind of vibe happening too... the illustrations in Werewolf were more primal and violent, the imagery from Mage was more heroic and surreal. I'm not going to get into the debate about whether the games themselves actually supported this style of play, because today's question is about the art... and whether you found that art inspiring.

Then there are the beautiful books that I really wanted to be inspired by, but they just felt like they were trying too hard. A specific case in point was Nobilis, I wanted to love it, and I know there are fanatical devotees of the game, but it just didn't do anything for me. Perhaps I'd already played Amber and Changeling: the Dreaming, and this just felt like a pretentious hybrid of those.

I was going to instantly dismiss any game that used predominantly photographical imagery, because most of them are licensed properties simply using screenshots from the TV-show/movie from which they derive. If I'm inspired by those images, they probably inspire because of their context, and they probably inspired me more when I saw them screened as a part of the show. I will make a notable exception for +Josh T Jordan's Heroine though. Even though I found the rules of the game to be a bit to abstract and simplistic for my tastes, flicking through the book made me want to tweak the rules a bit and play a session or two.

Dispatch Guide WIP

The GM in The Law is called Dispatch, they are the central communications hub for the agents of the law in the local area, they have an overview of the situation and a perspective that agents simply can't have in the narrow alleys and dark shadows of the sprawl.

I've been working on a Dispatch Guide as quickly as possible, to help flesh out some concepts in the game and make it a bit smoother to run.

Here's a sneak review of the first part of the guide.  

11 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #11

Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

A few years ago, I'd have said "Mutant Chronicles" or "The Classic World of Darkness" but both of them have been redone to varying degrees of success. The same with many of the other properties I've wanted to see redone and modernised. Nephilim has been done, iterations of Dr Who, Star Wars and Star Trek... even L5R is seeing a new version soon. 

Fantasy Flight Games have bought a lot of the game settings I'd like to see reborn, but they have a nasty tendency to make games that are far too expensive, often too fiddly compared to their originals, and often striped away of a lot of their original character.

I'd love to see Rackham's confrontation setting of Aarklash reborn, even through a rebirth of the Cadwallon RPG, but since FFG have it, I don't hold a whole lot of hope for it.

That's one of the reasons why I've been trying to revisit the rules and similar types of settings in many of the games I've been developing over the years.

RPGaDay2017 #10

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

I usually don't have a lot of time to play games... well, more accurately, I have periods when I've got heaps of time to play games, but trying to find a regular gaming group who are willing to try new things has been problematic over the last couple of years.

That means I see playtests come through, product launches happen, actual play reports appear, and even hacks manifest, turning into new games entirely as the process cycles through iterations of development and evolution.

It also means that by the time I get around to purchasing or playing a game it's often no longer "the new hotness", so there have been ample opportunities for reviews good and bad to come through, and if a game proves to be a one-gimmick shtick I see the hipster fanaticism die down before I waste my time and effort on it.

On the negative side, I often miss some really good and innovative games that only get limited runs.

I guess the answer to this question is basically that I don't go anywhere for my reviews, I typically let the reviews come to me via various forms of social media. If enough positive reviews come through, and the buzz around a game lasts long enough, I go and find a copy for myself.

10 August, 2017

I guess I need to finish it

There's a new index of independent RPGs going around...and I'm surprised to actually be included in it this time. It's called Fictioneers.net, and on further investigation it has been around since 2014.

I'm on the index because of my game El Casador, which I never got around to finishing for a few specific reasons. One of those reasons was wanting it to be completely numberless, because that was the challenge I was a part of when designing it... a second reason was trying to develop a card based AI system for the monsters in the game. The AI system just frustrated me and so I abandoned it. I've thought about it a few times since then, but not much has ever come from those thoughts. One day a breakthrough will probably come, and one day I'll be happy with it.

...but for the moment it will probably be quicker just to add a gew more of my finished games to the Fictioneers listing.

RPGaDay2017 #9

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

This is a bit like the last one, where a lot of games instantly rule themselves out because they are specifically designed as one-shots, or for very short story arcs, but for the rest of the RPGs out there it's more a case of who your players are, and who your GM is.

I like the idea of a game with a distinct beginning, middle and end. But I know a lot of people who are always striving for that epic game that lasts for years and years. 5 to 10 games is probably a nice length for a short to medium campaign, and I'd even consider something like D&D for it. I wouldn't start at level 1 though, I'd probably run a game where the players started at about level 4 or 5, and over the course of the game I'd allow the characters to gain 2 or 3 levels. I always found the sweet spot for 3rd Edition D&D to be around level 5 or 6, so this means our characters start at the point where the game gets a bit meatier, but the game also ends before the characters become too overpowered compared to the world around them.

If were going to run another system, I'd have to seriously consider the type of progression that occurs over a period of ten sessions. Early Warhammer Fantasy would probably be another contender, but it's a dark gritty setting... every time I've played it, we've been lucky to see characters progress through a career more than once every two or three games, and a lot of those low level careers are pretty brutal. A ten session arc in this system, starting at base level would be lethal to many of the characters, but if that's what you were going for than I could see it working.

This is actually one of those games that I'd like to have experimented with a bit more. Perhaps trying to run a game where players have a certain amount of XP under their belts, and a few career paths that they'd already traversed to become veterans. But it's always been a slog to get the that level when everyone decides that we need to start the stories with all the characters at base level. A mid level campaign of this would definitely work over a 10 session arc.

I generally think most of the long-form, campaign-oriented RPGs would work well with the 10 session game format.