#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 27

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 27 - What are your essential tools for good gaming?

I feel like I can indulge my minimalist streak for this question, but my list is pretty simple and has been for basically my whole gaming career: good players, paper and pencils, and dice. More recently I've been getting into index cards and Sharpies, but I gotta be honest: that's about as fancy as I'll get. I never even got quite comfortable having a computer at the table, nor did I ever really cotton to online gaming. I guess RPGs have become a big way for me to not engage with technology so much, which I guess is a little weird, but there it is. And even my simple list isn't "essentials" across the board; I'm sure there are many fine RPG experiences to be had without dice, for example (hello, Dread). I'll just blanket concede that there will always be exceptions. Good players are probably the most essential, though, and everything else on the list is there based on my own personal preferences. And my "essentials" list is pretty damn close to what I'd consider a "complete" list, anyway. I like to keep it simple as much as I can.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 26

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 26 - Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

I'm interpreting this question such that "useful" comes out to "generally useful" as opposed to "useful for that particular game," mostly because that makes it easy for me to answer. I imagine this will have to be a very common answer among Gamers Of A Certain Age, but my pick for this would have to be GURPS. Say what you might about the system itself, the GURPS supplement game was always on point. GURPS sourcebooks are, by and large, excellent and comprehensive resources. Further, they generally get authored by people personally enthusiastic about the subject matter, which is what happens when you basically just leave an open call for pitches. The goal of each sourcebook was to present enough material to build entire campaigns around, and that alone meant that they could be mined for information and ideas to be ported to any game. But each being based on the GURPS engine at the core also meant that it was effortless to mix and match them into whatever setting mashup your heart desired. While it always remains my goal to assemble an extensive and varied RPG library, I tend to want to go for breadth of systems rather than depth. That said, though, if I went the other way and wanted to build a whole library around a single system that could inform the widest variety of campaign settings, if not outright support them, then I would do it with GURPS.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 25

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


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

Honestly, nothing has ever occurred to me as either a player or a GM beyond just a verbal thanks. I've seen a lot of other answers along the theme of "offer to run a game and give them a chance to play," which is pretty nice, but everyone's got their preferences, and some people just plain like GMing more. I certainly understand the need for a break now and then, though, so maybe generalizing that idea and seeing if the GM wants a break would be pretty good. Another answer that caught my eye was not leaving it up to the GM to also do the game organizing, which I also think is a valid point, but I also think that demands a pretty significant culture shift. Not that it isn't a worthwhile one! I just don't expect it. So, yeah, for me personally, no special thanks are required. I do it for love of the hobby and enjoyment of the work, and I hope that's why other GMs do it, too!

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 24

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 24 - Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

I'm straight up taking a pass on this one. Time for an alternate question, pulled from this fine list at Casting Shadows!

Alternate Question - Campaigns: do you prefer set-length or open-ended play?

Currently, I prefer set-length, inasmuch as I'm taking that to mean the alternative to open-ended play. I'm not assuming set-length to mean a particular number of sessions or length of real-world time, but rather there's some kind of "end condition" to the story; a planned arc, perhaps, or some kind of campaign goal, or anything that will signal, in the fiction, that it's time for the campaign to wrap up. I'll also note that this answer is very much a product of the constraints of practicality. Given infinite free time for myself and all others concerned, sure, I'd love some open-ended campaign play, but I can't see that happening for a bunch of busy adults, at least not for myself or the circles I run in. I'll also note that I'm accepting the question constraint of sticking only to thinking about campaign play. Given my choice of all available options, I'd prefer one-shots at this point in my life to any kind of campaign, though you could certainly also make the argument that a one-shot is just a very limited set-length campaign. But given the kind of gaming time I have (or don't), and given the number of games still I'm still waiting to play, one-shots would be the way to go for me. For campaigns, life being what it is, I'd like to know we were working (playing?) toward something concrete and that we'd know when the game is over.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Days 22 and 23

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Blog fatigue must be setting in; it looks like I missed another day! This time, I didn't even realize it. So here's a special double-issue with not even a flimsy reason attached.

Day 22 - Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

My first thought for this question was immediately Lasers & Feelings by John Harper. It's not only a super-light game mechanically, but it comes complete with nicely constrained character creation, a setting, an adventure generator...basically everything you need to just grab it and go, even with people completely new to roleplaying and like ten seconds of prep time. It lightly piggybacks onto Star Trek for tone and maybe tropes, but in this particular case, because the adventure generator plots things out for you, that's not even really necessary for the core experience.

The question did give me a lot to think about, though. I've never really spent time thinking about the "ease" of running a particular game. In my mind, the big factor that a game can affect is the rule complexity, but that's more about how easy the game is to learn, and I feel like once you learn a game, the ease of running it is probably about the same as any other game. Some games will (or can) require more prep time, some may require more rules mastery than others, but once you're comfortable bringing it to the table, I feel like the ease of running doesn't depend on the game anymore. Games that are the easiest to run are the ones with a good group of players! If everyone's on board for setting and tone and so forth, and if you've got players that are imaginative and collaborative and enjoy playing, then honestly, the properties of the game itself aren't that important anymore. I think that there may be games that may be inherently harder to run due to their innate characteristics, like games that need a lot of record-keeping during play, for example. But it's my opinion that, by and large, ease of running is going to come down to the players and your GM techniques and toolboxes.

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

This was a pretty difficult question for me, as layout is not something I particularly notice about games. As discussed previously, I do enjoy me some RPG artwork, but I don't feel like I get the same level of communication about a game from the layout as other people do. So to answer this question, I'm just going with a game that stuck out for me as being particularly eye-catching and easy to use, and that is Numenera from Monte Cook Games. I like the smooth two-column format bolstered by additional notes and references in an oversize margin. It's got nice, noticeable (but not intrusive) cutouts and boxed text, a classic style of table that appeals to me as an old AD&D-head, art that is plentiful, aesthetically pleasing, and well-placed (even in mid-text, which I feel like is a hard thing to do well), handy color-coded "parts" of the book (basically groups of chapters), even neat and evocative page decoration. It's pleasant to read as a text, and it's also useful as a reference manual, which are two sometimes opposing aspects that all RPG books have to try and accommodate. I don't think there's any question that MCG puts out quality products, and I feel like Numenera was the flagship offering in what became a spectacular line.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 21

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


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

I'm choosing to focus more on the "least words" part of this question than anything else, and based on that criteria, it's hard to go wrong by checking out the 200 Word RPG Challenge organized by David Schirduan and Marshall Miller. In particular, my pick for today's answer is one of the winners for 2017, Grant Howitt's Mechanical OryxMechanical Oryx packs a surprising amount into its 200-word frame: a mysterious and compelling setting, interesting resolution mechanics with narrative inputs, a gameplay currency, even ideas for character advancement! In just those few sentences, I can immediately picture the world and its troubles and know what the game's story will be about. And lest I spend more words talking about the game than there actually are in the game, I'll leave it at that.

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Days 19 and 20

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


It finally happened: I missed a day. Enjoy this special weekend double-issue!

Day 19 - Which RPG features the best [awesome] writing?

I interpreted this question to be lean more toward the non-rules portion of the writing. My first thought on this was Underground, because it was such a joy to read, but I already went on about that game on Day 11, and I didn't want to repeat myself too much. My second thought was Orkworld, but that one I gushed about on Day 17. That'll teach me to go on tangents. I think for my official pick I'll go with Monsterhearts by Avery Alder. Just a few weeks ago or so did I finish my readthrough of the second edition, and it was most excellent. I actually don't have a lot to say about that wasn't already said in Martin Ralya's recent G+ post:

It's lean, without an ounce of cruft anywhere on its frame. It's devoid of blather. This is a bullshit-free presentation honed by years of actual play, design chops, and feedback from others. It's fucking beautiful.

It's also packed with advice delivered in the best way possible for an RPG: conversationally but directly, with its intended audiences in mind. I love design notes and anything that brings in all the stuff that exists on the edges of the actual text -- like intent -- and MH2 makes so much explicit so well that it just rocks.

I agree with everything Martin said. Monsterhearts is not only a great game to play but also a great game to read. Reading it makes you want to play. That's probably the best indicator I can think of for a well-written RPG.

Day 20 - What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

I understand the value of digital RPG projects, including digital copies of books, but I am all about physical books. To that end, I interpreted this question as where to get physical copies of out-of-print books. I'm assuming there's a baseline answer of hitting up your FLGS(es) or used book stores, but I'm also discounting PoD solutions like DriveThruRPG, just because that's never what I'm looking for when I'm looking for old books. To that end, my favorite source is Noble Knight Games. They're usually my first stop when I'm looking for a specific out-of-print book, but I've also just found stuff there that I didn't even know I wanted. I think, as a retailer, they're just right in my sweet spot of what I'm looking for. It's getting harder to turn to my FLGSes for older stuff, because I (like a lot of people) are also very interested in the avalanche of new (and largely indie) games that are coming out all the time, and there's only so much a store can do with limited shelf space. (I also live in New York City where physical real estate is at a ridiculous premium, so a sprawling game shop with endless inventory is not a tenable situation out this way.) But, yeah, I'm a big fan of Noble Knight. If you're interested in older games and haven't yet had the pleasure, give them a browse and see if you find anything you like!

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 18

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


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

This is another one that makes me reach back into the misty memories of the past. Back when I had all sorts of free time for playing RPGs, my gaming followed a very different model than it does today. Back then, stable groups, campaign play, and a not very wide awareness of available games all meant that there was a lot of gaming of not very many different titles. Many years later, following a bit of a dry spell, I got swept up not only in the indie game explosion, but also a renewed interest and ability to attend cons as well as a much wider social circle than before. This all led to gaming that not only tended more toward one-shots, but also tended toward playing a little bit of a lot of different games instead of the other way around. So any "what have I played the most of" questions spanning my whole gaming career are going to have to tilt toward my early years. Another thing I pondered for this question was whether to count different editions separately. In the end, I think I'll go with "yes" on that; I don't feel the need to call AD&D and 3.5 the same game, any more than I would call any two PbtA games the same game just for both being PbtA. Similarly, I wouldn't consider the various World of Darkness titles (VampireWerewolf, etc.) the same game; I'd consider those separate.

Going by sheer hours logged, it's going to be hard for me to decide between Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition) and Vampire: The Masquerade (second edition). I think I can tilt the scales toward AD&D, but that is pure guesswork on my part. Mostly that's based on the memory of having quite a few different AD&D characters but mostly having GMed V:tM. If we discount number of sessions or actual play time and just go by number of characters made, I would definitely have to give it to Champions (fourth edition). That game was my first exposure to a point-buy generic system, and I was simply entranced. I really enjoyed coming up with just the right powers and modifications to fit the visions I had, and I would make character after character, basically just to do the math. It seemed to me at the time the height of creativity. Years later, and after encountering more GURPS players, I would come to know this as "the character-creation game," which honestly is still one of my favorite games. (Well, favorite solo games, let's say; though I won't discount the draw for me of any game with a robust group chargen mechanic.) I liken it to, when playing any of a number of adventure or tactical video games, instead of actually playing the game, spending all my time customizing the character avatars. Which I have no regrets about, by the way. Fun is fun, after all!

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 17

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


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

I'm going to give myself permission to meander a bit on this one, if only because it was a nice little trip down memory lane. I won't lie, it does irk me a tiny bit that there must, by definition, be an objectively correct answer to this question, but I lack the resources to be certain about it. For one, I've been buying RPGs for a long time now, so determining what I've owned the longest takes me way back. Two, because I have not kept exacting historical records of my purchases, and because the vast majority of my older library is packed up in storage boxes that would take me forever to go through, I'm having to rely on my admittedly spotty memory about my own youth. Before I start down that path, though, I want to take a quick detour that was highlighted for me by seeing other people's responses.

I saw a mention today of Orkworld by John Wick. This would actually be an excellent candidate for today's answer for me, too, except I know it can't be the one I've owned the longest. I know I've never played it, though! I suppose I probably would if the opportunity arose, but it's not on the ol' bucket list or anything. I just loved reading this game, though. It functions perfectly well as a setting book, and I'm happy enough to treat it as such. As a game it brought some interesting ideas to me, like using the time scale of seasons and having it be significant to the narrative, but mostly I just dug all the detail and love that went into the setting. Let's not mince words; this game is about orks. As such, you are presented with orkish culture, biology, ecology, and whatever else you'd need to really make a good go at roleplaying them. This book made me love orks. It was also instrumental in the development of what became a long love affair for me of thinking about the lives of monsters outside their interactions with PCs. I got to know orks as a people, and I found myself wanted to get to know the rest of the lot, too. This was mostly thought exercises for myself; I never delved too deeply into getting books about it or anything. (Good thing, probably, too, because my shelves are already bursting.) But Orkworld was very significant to me in that way, and I think Wick did a tremendous job. I often feel like this is a bit of a hidden gem, but that's probably just for me personally. Not only have I never played it, but I don't even really remember anything about the system, so...I have to assume that it didn't make much impression on me as a game. But as a book, as a work, I loved it and still do.

In any case, back to my actual answer. And we're going to take the long way around to that, too, because I feel like typing a lot today, I guess. The first thought that occurred to me was In Nomine, the RPG of the hidden war between Heaven and Hell. It's by Derek Percy and published by Steve Jackson Games, but it was an adaptation of a French RPG by the same name, published by In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas. They way I came around to this game was twofold.

Firstly, in order to answer this question, I started trying to think back to my early days of buying RPGs, and In Nomine jumped out at me because of the unusual way I came to buying it. It was at some long-ago DEXCON (I think probably 6?), and I had "won" some prize at a game of Toon. I can't remember the circumstances or why I won something. I probably have a certificate around somewhere. Anyway, part of the prize was a gift certificate or something to the Steve Jackson Games table at the con (because Toon was also an SJG title), and later on when I was browsing the table, it was literally just the eye-catching cover that led me to express interest in In Nomine. I had a gift certificate, here was a cool-looking book...sure, why not? So that's why the game came to mind as an early purchase.

Secondly, the reason it came to mind as a game I'd never played was because I became famous in my circle of friends for not running the game. A particular group of friends and I were all ridiculously obsessed with the movie The Prophecy. If your'e not familiar, it stars Christopher Walken as the angel Gabriel who has parted ways with God and started a second rebellion, similar to Lucifer's original one. (Special bonus parenthetical: Lucifer in that movie is played by one Viggo Mortensen, capturing the hearts of that little cadre of teenage goths back in the 90s, years before he would later set loins aflame as Aragorn.) In The Prophecy, it's clear that Gabriel has his own agenda, completely separate from both God and Lucifer, so naturally the question arose: how would this affect the setting as written in In Nomine, which leans on the polarized opposite sides of God and Lucifer? Given the arrival of a third option, which archangels would jump where? Which demon princes? We formed an RPG group and set about to find out. I spent months hacking the setting to fit this new model of spiritual politics. We spent late night after late night talking about characters, examining world concepts...preparing the campaign, basically. Suffice it to say, it never materialized. This was on the cusp of college for some of us, adult life for others; people became busy, moved away...eventually I moved away...the campaign never started. It became an in-joke for our group: "Hey, when are we going to play this new game?" "Right after Rob runs In Nomine." I call it the greatest campaign that was never played. I'm sure if I dug down far enough, I could find all my old notes and junk. Anyway...that's why I thought it would make a good answer to this question; even if I was wrong about it being the game I've owned longest, it still made for a couple good stories.

Except that it doesn't even fit the second criteria! In being so lost in my own nostalgic memories of the good old days, I completely forgot that I did play in an In Nomine campaign, with a totally different group after I had moved away and failed to start up the Prophecy campaign. It was relatively short-lived, as I recall, and after that arc, I don't think I ever picked up with that group again, but it was multiple sessions, at least, so there's no way In Nomine qualified as a game I never played. Back to the drawing board.

As I started tracking backward again, I thought of another big one that I never got around to playing: SLA Industries. I remember picking up the game, it having come recommended by a friend of mine, a gamer whose opinion I hold in high regard. It's kind of a...cyberpunk horror game? I think? I have to admit that I remember starting reading the book, but I'm pretty sure I never even finished it. The friend who recommended it to me at the time lived somewhere far away, and where I lived at the time, I remember having enough trouble even finding people to play "regular" RPGs, let alone some weird European cyberpunk. I think the game remains a classic in some circles even today, but I just never managed to get into it. So I thought that it was likely to be my answer today.

But then...I realized I was going about things the wrong way. What I had been trying to do was work my way backwards to think about my longest-owned game, but what I should have been doing was working forward. So. At my start in the 80s, all I ever got was AD&D stuff. That's how I was taught, that's what was played, and that's what I bought. It probably wasn't until the early 90s that I even got interested in other RPGs. Like...I had been vaguely aware that GURPS existed...I kinda knew Call of Cthulhu was a thing, but there was never a need for any of that stuff with the group I was in, and I didn't have a lot of disposable income anyway. It wasn't until I moved to a new town and started playing with a new group that I started sampling different games, so I remember coming to Champions and the Hero System; I sunk some money into that. Taking this little memory trip also served to remind me that I bought those games because I was playing them, though. I learned about new games through my gaming groups; this was long before I would buy games just because I was interested in games. Feng ShuiTMNT, that eventual and inevitable point where Vampire: The Masquerade would enter my world. Definitely I threw a few bucks at White Wolf in my young life...

Wait.

White Wolf.

Something's tugging at the back of my mind. Not White Wolf proper; I played a lot of that World of Darkness stuff. But surely that involvement would have put new things on my radar, things that I might never have...

Oh. Oh no.

Yes.

I think the actual answer to this question might be a little game I bought called HoL. I don't even know what to link to when I mention its name; here's the Wikipedia pageHoL was...well, it was a game. It was a game about...I'm not sure. Ultraviolent criminals living on a planet made of garbage? I think there are really only two things you need to know about HoL. One, the actual, published text consisted entirely of handwritten pages. (Handwritten largely, if the author is to be believed, at an IHOP.) Two, the game was so out there that White Wolf didn't even really publish it; they created a separate imprint (charmingly called Black Dog) to handle HoL and other games of its ilk. I initially checked it out because of the enthusiasm one of my friends had for it, but reaing it just made me feel a little bad inside. I didn't know it at the time, but I think that was the start of my relationship with edgelords. I won't go on about it. If you want to hear more, the fine gentlemen at System Mastery did an entire episode about HoL. If you like, you can listen to them complain about it instead of me. So, yes...until I can factually countermand this by going through my library, I'll stick with HoL as my answer and...well, just look forward to tomorrow, I suppose.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 16

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


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

This question gives me as much pause as the last one did, and for the same reason: I'm not particularly in the habit of hacking up games. So with that in mind, it sort of becomes a question of which RPG I enjoy, full stop, which is, you know...quite a long list. But in pondering the question as which RPG do I enjoy particularly for the rules-as-written, the one that comes to the forefront for me is Headspace by Mark Richardson. I love this game. It's billed as cyberpunk, but that doesn't highlight what I love about it. The central conceit, that party members are all connected to a shared consciousness (the titular "headspace"), and the fact that the rules are all built around that concept, make this an extremely easy game to run, play, and have fun with. The idea and mechanics of the shared consciousness addresses so many stumbling blocks that may crop up in other RPGs. Splitting the party is a non-issue as far as needing any special running techniques; all party members are in continuous, instantaneous, and rather intimate contact. Niche protection? Forget about it; the party members all share skills. That same state of affairs similarly solves the "nobody wants to play X" problem. Even character death is mitigated as a player nuisance because the "ghost" lives on in the shared consciousness. Like many other Powered-by-the-Apocalypse games, Headspace character generation forges intraparty relationships and so forth, but these relationships are very mechanically important during play -- moreso, I think, than in many other PbtA titles. Moreover, character generation is also party generation, which is a trait shared by many PbtA games, but still something I enjoy greatly about Headspace, and it's easy to make it background, session zero, or session one stuff. I believe it's also less troublesome to swap players in and out over the course of a campaign, though I admit I have never tried this; I just appreciate it in theory. In short, the game has all the strengths and gameplay I might get out of any of a large number of PbtA games plus a host of cool new tech that makes it super smooth to run. If you haven't yet had the pleasure, I highly recommend checking it out!