#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 26-31

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Well friends, this is the end! The last six questions for #RPGaDAY 2017, to be answered and shared between members of this hobby. When this post is published, I should be back home from Japan, probably still ungodly jet lagged, and I’ll have plenty to say about that. However, until then, you’ll have to be satisfied with the last few answers to RPGBrigade’s annual conversation starters, because my ass is not going to be getting out of bed for a while. The penultimate set of answers can be found here, and here are the final questions answered!

August 26th: Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

My guess is that 80% of people doing #RPGaDAY are going to give the same answer for this question, and you bet you’re ass I’m going to as well.

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Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number is like 50% composed of some of the best GM aides gaming has ever seen, ranging from the A+ random planet generation tables to some fantastic advice on adventure and alien creation. The best part of all of this is the detail: Crawford spends paragraphs on every result for his random tables, describing what the results really mean, how they could affect your game, and how you can spin them off to make for interesting new adventures.

Just, take it from me, Stars Without Number is an essential tool for any big sci-fi game, and arguably is a useful resource for people running, really, any game. But, hey, you don’t have to take my word for it: the core book is free.

August 27th: What are your essential tools for good gaming?

There are three things which I believe are essential to every single campaign you run, and by essential, I mean completely optional but I really like them and, since I am an internet blogger, I am so pretentious as to misinterpret that as essentialness.

The first is a notebook! Every good campaign comes with a good campaign notebook, a place for the GM to jot down both all of their prep, assorted custom random tables for use when players venture into improv territory, scrawl down random notes during a session, and just to doodle maps, faces, and whatever else in the game inspires your sketching urges. I’m a big proponent of getting a special notebook for every campaign, instead of jamming everything you do into one big catch-all notebook. Sometimes this does go out of control, including recently, when I purchased a notebook and then got so excited about it that I concepted out an entire campaign just to justify the purchase.

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This notebook, to be specific

The second essential thing you need is dice! Anyone who’s been in the hobby long enough will probably accumulate just a comically large pile of dice, some of which are inevitably completely useless (I have a set of d12s which show signs of the Zodiac?) but just cool to look at. In just as dumb a manner as the notebook, I like to have dice specifically associated with a campaign in question. This is partially because it turns your dice bag (which, let’s be real, is an old Crown Royal bag, just admit it) into a sort of collection of memories, as you look over your dice and remember the games you bought them for. Another reason is because I’m an addict and love excuses to buy cool dice.

The third and final thing which is positively essential for any game is a laptop, phone, or anything else with Googling capabilities. While technology is frequently an unfortunate distraction on the table, when you’re GMing, no matter what, you’re probably going to get asked a question that is either incredibly dumb, requiring extremely niche knowledge, or both. For this, you’re going to need to pop open an incognito tab, type in “Google.com”, and figure out how many blocks of C4 your can stick to a horse before it becomes slower, or how much blood is in a giraffe, or how many employees usually work a night shift at Denny‘s, because your game has gone terribly awry.

August 28th: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

Unquestionably this episode of the YouTube series Kid Snippets. It’s never really relevant to anything, we’re all just morons.

August 29th: What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

Uhh, I actually have never funded an RPG Kickstarter. This is awkward. Let’s see, give me a second…

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Spire: The City Must Fall is a fantasy RPG by…oh, hey, look at that, Grant Howitt, depicting a fantasy world ruled by a bourgeoisie class of high elves. Your characters, the normally despised dark elves, are watching their culture being destroyed in the streets, and have decided that this regime must fall, and it must fall hard. It’s a storytelling game about a slow, dirty climb to the top of the ivory towers, if only to push those that reside there off the edge.

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The game seems pretty interesting, even beyond the relatively unique fantasy revolutionary setting. The classes described are instantly interesting, from the hyena-worshiping Carrion-Priests to the noble-turned-bottom feeder Knights of the Docks. The brief description of the rules describes benefits for knowledge and planning, as well as the accrual of stress, both of which sound both evocative and interesting.

And, yeah, seeing as this is the third one of these that I’ve mentioned his name, Grant Howitt’s name attached to this project fills me with confidence, as he’s put out a variety of both microgames (including Honey Heist and Doctor Magnethands, games I’ve mentioned previously) and a pair of Kickstarted releases, Goblin Quest and Unbound. The veteran crew, of both RPG industry vets and Kickstarter vets, puts me at ease, and a promise of transparency helps me feel not that bad about dropping sixty bucks on a book I’ve never seen.

The Spire Kickstarter will be long done by the time I post this, but, hey, maybe there will be a slacker backer option available?

August 30th: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would like to see?

Easy. Fantasy road trip.

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No, fantasy games are not already this. I’m not talking Lord of the Rings here, which is just a fantasy game which takes place over a long distance and period of time. That’s maybe 80% fantasy, 20% road trip, and what I want is essentially the reverse.

Think about all of the unique things about American road trips, especially a road trip in a really shitty car. The car itself is a source of excitement and adventure, as you constantly pray the thing doesn’t fall apart on the way, forcing you to find a local repair shop and track down some parts (a real thing that has happened to me!). Beyond that, there’s stopping, briefly, at dumb little road attractions like massive balls of twine or giant rocking chairs of whatever. There’s staying at tiny garbage hotels or AirBnBs in towns you’ve never heard of, maybe enjoying the evening in a small town bar with some locals with lives completely unlike your own.

The thing about road trips is that you don’t stop in every podunk down and offer your help for quests or whatever, your stops are mainly there to either obtain something needed (be it food, drinks, a snack, gas, whatever) or to stave off your own incredible boredom and soreness from sitting in a car for hours. Fantasy adventures tend to have this very “roughing it” vibe, but that’s not what a road trip is. Road trips are far more focused on exploring, on being places that you’d otherwise have no reason to be in and planning on the fly. It’s about seeing a lot of weird and beautiful and boring stuff all in rapid succession.

A fantasy road trip is not a great quest across the kingdom to claim the Relic of Whateverthefuck to slay the Evil King, it’s a group of friends hopping in a ride and taking a trip, pretty not sure what they’re going to come across, but venturing forth with equal parts curiosity, fear, and a desire to keep moving forward.

August 31st: What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

Oh man, a lot.

I’m excited for The Witcher tabletop RPG from R. Talrosian Games to finally be out, because the Witcher universe is one that I find extremely cool and seemingly a natural fit for tabletop gaming. The idea of a system which is equally interested in preparation and planning as the fight itself is one I find extremely interesting.

I’m also excited for Wrath and Glory, the first Warhammer 40,000 RPG to come out since the license was lost by Fantasy Flight Games and given to Ulisses Spiele, the creators of The Dark Eye. I have nothing against the FFG titles (I own quite a few, in fact), but seeing a new take on this extremely dumb setting, especially something that’s a little more freeform and exploratory than the FFG games, all of which had very prescribed premises, excites me.

(I should note that technically neither of these games has been formally slated for 2018, but I’m just being pessimistic in terms of The Witcher, which was supposed to come out a year ago, and optimistic for Wrath and Glory, which was announced the day I’m writing this).

I’m excited to be playing Genisys, which technically comes out this year but I probably won’t really be playing until next year. Genisys, which is a setting-stripped edition of the rules for Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars game, could be an extremely cool system to run a nice, rules-medium game with a lot of creative liberty on both the player and GM sides. The custom dice this system uses are great for letting situations snowball out of control in Star Wars, so I can’t wait to put them to use in other settings.

I can’t wait for PAX South 2018! I already bought my pass, and I’m excited for hopefully even more tabletop fun this year. If things go as planned (which they probably won’t), I might even have some games of my own to show off! I’d love to go to San Antonio with a game online I can point people to, and maybe even a prototype RPG or card game in my bag to have people play, but even just being able to see what other people are doing is usually great as is!

For my world, the thing that I find maybe the most fascinating is that I very well might move for my job in 2018, and while a location, or even if I’m going to move or not, isn’t set in stone yet, this will be the first time I’ve ever truly moved away from home. This means new FLGSs, new groups, the ends of old groups, the discovery of new scenes, increased access to new conventions (being closer to Gencon or one of the bigger PAXs doesn’t sound bad at all), and just new people in my local space in the community. I honestly have no idea what to expect, but that’s the fun part!

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#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 21-25

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Time for another #RPGaDAY post! It’s time to talk around five more interesting questions, and explore the hobby in five more ways using this lovely list of questions put together by RPGBrigade. As per usual, the last bout of questions can be found here.

Also, as a little peek behind the curtain, I wrote all of these far in advance of the actual dates. When this goes up, I’ll have been in Japan for about a week and a half (I should be comfortably in Osaka on the day this goes up). I’ll definitely have some stuff to say about that, so stay tuned, but in the meanwhile, expect the #RPGaDAY content to keep a’flowin’ through August. Anyways, here we go!

August 21st: Which RPG does the most with the least words?

I wrote a lot about Grant Howitt’s work last week, so instead I’m going to give some credit to another small game: Fiasco.

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Fiasco is a story game with no implicit setting (in fact, you can find countless playbooks to run the game in anything from a suburban neighborhood to a space station), but rather a character theme: in Fiasco, you play characters with lofty goals who are all but destined to fail miserably, in a manner usually reserved for Shakespeare plays and Coen brothers movies.

Fiasco is a pretty simple game, in a pretty svelte book (in fact, most of the pages are reserved for playbooks, which essentially boil down to random tables). However, the way that the game perfectly captures the feeling of watching something like a Burn After Reading, where you’re just sitting there screaming “YOU UNBELIEVABLE FUCKWITS” while these characters just pursue their goals to oblivion, is a delight.

While this is well and good and all, Fiasco also gets credit for using it’s terse word count to create a pretty fantastic intro game to the hobby in general. The rules are short and intuitive, and while it might not be indicative of the mechanical process of playing an RPG, it is positively fantastic for getting people used to dealing in the limited possibility spaces of video games to spread their wings and enjoy true role-playing.

August 22nd: Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

The structure of this question makes me feel like I can name a category, rather than a specific list, of games, which is exactly what I’m going to do because I’m a cheating pile of garbage.

The games I find easiest to run are those games that require less prep than average and a high amount of improvisation. I like to think I’m fairly good at thinking on my feet, and as a result games where I can build a lot of the session on the fly tend to run well at my table. Interpreting dice results in Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars falls in this category, as do most Powered By The Apocalypse games. In fact, the first time I ran a PBTA game (Dungeon World) I expected to be fairly inept at the paradigm, but it ended up a natural fit.

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By contrast, I have a harder time running very crunchy, prep-heavy games. My current Shadowrun campaign, for example, is proving to be a bit of a challenge for me, just because there are so many rules and systems that improvising material is a bit of a challenge.

That, I think, contains the reasoning behind all of this. The way I run games tends to be pretty improvisational, not because I don’t prep (quite the opposite, I usually do 2-3 hours of prep per game, which a lot of GMs probably just balked at) but rather because I like to leave things pretty open ended. My GM prep is conceptually similar to me just setting up a playground, waiting for my players to come in and start to play. Maybe they’ll swing on the swingset. Maybe they’ll go down the slide. Maybe they’ll eat dirt and just stand there punching each other. Who knows?

I like to set up some stuff to do, but in the end let the players pursue whatever they find interesting. As a result, I set up a lot of interesting places for things to start, but very few ways for them to end. Thus, I end up improvising a lot of the actual minutia of a given adventure, and thus, games that make that improvisation easier tend to be easier for me to run.

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

Time for another obscure pick, Nathanael Cole’s Motobushido.

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Motobushido is, to be less than academic, kickass. It revolves around playing a roving gang of samurai motorcycle riders, all basically burning the candle at both ends and waiting to die. It’s equal parts YojimboThe Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and Sons of Anarchy, and is just dripping with this unique style. The layout on the rules pages is pretty standard fare, but the part I love is where entire pages are taken up by these fantastic full-page pieces of art, like the piece above and this one below:

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This game’s dedication to style is what makes its layout pop so much. It’s historical with a modern twist, and every aspect of the book has this tone mixing the macho American biker culture with this very Eastern fatalism, and it’s beautiful. I highly recommend people check it out, you can buy it on DriveThruRPG

August 24th: Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

I’m going to pick a publisher with a single product out, because that product is so damn good: Geist Hack Games, publisher of Augmented Reality.

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Paul Gallagher’s book of random setting generation for cyberpunk settings is, quite frankly, a must have for anyone running any sort of cyberpunk game, from The Veil to Shadowrun. And it’s pay what you want! Recommended price of two dollars, are you kidding me? I’d buy a physical copy of this book for, no exaggeration, thirty dollars, it is so good.

What bit of setting do you need randomly generated? A street gang for your players to fight? A corporate conspiracy? A character’s online social media history? Garbage in a vending machine? How about what’s one one of the six trillion big screens that litter every stereotypical cyberpunk city? All that and more, in a beautifully designed package (that I’m 90% sure uses the font from SUPERHOT, not that that’s a knock against it) is what you get in Augmented Reality. This book is a prize, and you can get it for free (but you should spend more!) right here.

 

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

Be an active participant in your games.

GMs, depending on their style, can invest hours of time into building an interesting game for their players. This goes for everything from building settings from scratch to writing characters to drawing maps to preparing Fronts to reading character sheets to decide what challenges will be interesting to setting up miniature terrain (God help y’all who do this) to building stat blocks to god knows that else. And that’s just to prep the game itself, to say nothing of reading and memorizing rules, making design tweaks, and answering all of your dumb questions (kidding!).

If you really want to thank your GM in the most rewarding way, then prove to them that all of that work was worth something by really meaningfully interacting with all that content. Take a bit of time to remember character names and sketch maps, even if they’re crappy sketches. Interact with the less exciting parts of the world, just to give your GM the chance to show off how they spent three hours at home alone on a Friday naming all the drinks for sale in a tavern. The reverse of that holds, too: if your GM clearly spent some time building some part of the setting, take a chance to appreciate that, be it by using the dumb made up words they invented, by adopting the cultural norms of their fictional civilization in your roleplay, or just, I dunno, remembering what team in the fictional sports league your character roots for.

As a GM, the parts of roleplaying that I find the most rewarding aren’t the big battles or the dramatic character reveals, they’re the little moments where characters take the stuff I’ve written, the toys I’ve built them, and really run with them. Moments where the paladin gives a fanatical speech for the deity of your setting, or they take the time to explore the culture of the cities you built, or they banter casually with an NPC you spent time fleshing out, that sort of little stuff is what makes it worth it.

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 16-20

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Another five days have gone by, so another five answers are due for RPGBrigade’s RPGaDAY 2017, a wonderful opportunity for those of us in the tabletop RPG hobby to discuss the things about this particular subgenre of gaming that we love so much. We’re in the thick of things now, so let’s get to it, although feel free to check out last week’s set of answers too.

August 16th: Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

As it turns out, I don’t run a lot of games “as is”. Part of that is that I’m a game designer, and as a result I like to tweak and fiddle and bolt on my own parts to games that I run. I also tend to like a particular style of play, a theater of the mind over a sort of granular timekeeping. As a result, I’ve thrown out a lot of the more tactical elements of games I play, like Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars.

As a result, games I like as is tend to be games that are very small, games where the design is so focused that I don’t want to meddle with the few moving parts. So, I’ll turn to the first of two microgames built by Grant Howitt that will be mentioned in this post (the second being Doctor Magnethands, below): Honey Heist.

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That picture above is the entirety of the rules of Honey Heist (which are available here), and a good portion of it is just random generators for GM aid. Honey Heist is a pretty dumb game where characters only have two stats: BEAR and CRIMINAL. You play a team of bears trying to overcome the fact that you are bears to perform an elaborate, Ocean’s Eleven style theft of a massive stockpile of honey.

The thing about Honey Heist is that it’s so simple, but all of the moving pieces contribute to this wacky, nonsense game of bears trying to do sneaky, high-precision thief stuff, despite being, you know, big lumbering bears. It’s instantly learnable, the rules are both funny and intuitive, and there’s no need to monkey around with the rules. In fact, I usually only play with a single houserule: whenever your bear’s hat is knocked off, everyone in the scene is instantly aware that you are a bear. I mostly include that houserule because it has fantastic implications about what everyone thinks when you are wearing a hat.

Small games tend to have few moving parts, but those parts can be so tightly focused as to do a lot of the heavy lifting in making a game come alive. Thus, when playing a small game like Honey Heist, I don’t know that I’d change much at all.

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

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I think I’ve owned Hero System for about…probably seven years now? I’ve leafed through it, but honestly I’ve never actually given it a full read-through.

The reason why this book has been collecting dust on my shelf is multi-layered. First, and perhaps most damning, is the fact that I kind of don’t like the superhero genre that much. Don’t get me wrong, I go see the year’s big Marvel movie in theaters every year, and certainly enjoy the genre as a whole, but it never really grabbed on to me in sort of the viral way that fantasy or sci-fi does, where it just inspires me to build and create and tell stories.

My favorite superhero movies are all pretty solid evidence of this. Were you to put a gun to my head and force me to list my favorite superhero movies/series, well for one thing, you’re a crazy person, but this would probably be my list.

  • Captain America: Winter Soldier
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Spider-Man Homecoming
  • Big Hero 6
  • One Punch Man

There’s a trend in that list, and it’s that everything I named isn’t necessarily just a superhero movie, but rather a take on the superhero genre, or the superhero movie blended with another type of movie. Winter Soldier is as much a spy thriller as a superhero movie, and the same could be said of Guardians and space opera. Spider-Man Homecoming could be described pretty accurately as “if John Hughes directed a superhero movie” and Big Hero 6 is “what if Pixar did a superhero movie (again)”. One Punch Man is a satire on the entire shonen and superhero genre, flipped onto its head. If I extended this list, probably everything I’d list would continue to be twists on superheroes: Watchmen, Mystery Men, The League of Extraordinary GentlemenUnbreakableKick-AssHellboy. All distinctly weird.

Not that Hero System can’t handle that. I feel comfortable saying that Hero is flexible enough to handle any of these without having read it due to A) the reputation the game has within the RPG community, and B) the fact that it’s the size of a fucking calculus textbook.

Therein lies the second reason I have yet to crack into Hero: it’s a goddamn enormous, and it sets out to provide a degree of granularity which makes any sort of superhero or superhero story possible, but it does so by being as crunchy as gravel. So, maybe I’ll run Hero someday, but until that day, I think I’ll stick with my usual superhero game of choice, Wild Talents.

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

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My Fantasy Flight Star Wars group is the longest-running tabletop group I’ve ever had, now just past the year and a half mark, and thus, Fantasy Flight Star Wars is the game I have played the most. I know, I’m a young whippersnapper.

I think this answer also echoes the way I play games of any sort in general. I’m antsy, I like to jump around quite a bit. I have some friends who go deep into the video games they love, playing them an ungodly sum, be it Mount and BladeLeague of LegendsEternal, or DOTA 2. While these friends have a four-digit amount of hours in these games, my most played game is probably Team Fortress 2, and summing all my hours across platforms together gets you probably in the ballpark of 300 hours, and that took 12 years to do.

Rather, I like to play a large variety of games, frequently switching my interests from wildly disparate games. Just this summer alone, I bounced from the fast-paced gameplay of Overwatch to the slower exploration of Prey to the tightly-paced narrative of The Last of Us to the confounding nonsense of Deadly Premonition, all while sprinkling in a bit of Rocket League along the way. I just don’t stick to one game for very long.

This goes for tabletop RPGs as well. Since starting this Star Wars group, I’ve frequently overridden my own plans for Star Wars games to run other things, from playtests of my own games to Colonial Gothic to Cypher System. My brain is just constantly generating ideas, and unfortunately I lack the willpower to resist them forever, so while I’ve played a lot of games, I probably haven’t played them very long.

August 19th: Which RPG features the best writing?

Doctor Magnethands, bar none.

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Doctor Magnethands is “a stupid game for drunk people” that’s available for free on the internet, because you can’t put a price on idiocy. In it, players play a rag tag party of possibly heroes but probably nonsense who are out to save the world from Doctor Magnethands, a mad scientist with horseshoe magnets for hands who speaks with, and this is a direct quote, “a sort of bad Dutch accent”.

While only two pages long, Doctor Magnethands is written in this amazingly personality-filled tone that feels like the writer is telling you these rules as you sit across from each other at a house party, probably while someone’s crappy trap mixtape is playing. Take this excerpt, for example, which describes how you use torn up bits of paper that people wrote on to describe your character:

“Draw four each. One of them is your identity, unless you didn’t draw an identity, in which case you should make one up. (In one game a woman played Downton Abbey for the whole thing; we had to set entire scenes inside her. I think she managed to have an affair with a priest at one point) These four pieces of paper build your character. Look at the stupid shit written on them. How are you going to use these? Is that name an alter-ego, an enemy, or an ally? Do you want another drink? Yeah. Yeah you do. Get me one as well.”

Doctor Magnethands is one of the few games I wouldn’t mind just forcing the players to read, because it is so goddamn funny to read that just doing so is a treat unto itself. Personally, my favorite bit is the last line, in the Special Thanks section, in which is written a single word: “Wine”.

August 20th: What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

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If you don’t live in an area where used bookstore Half Price Books has taken root, and you love tabletop RPGs, I feel bad for you. A chain of stores specializing in secondhand merchandise, from books and comics to movies, CDs, and even vinyl, Half Price Books is a fantastic place to find obscure, out-of-print, and just sort of odd books.

Since the stock of Half Price Books is majority used, it means that whenever groups give up playing certain games, upgrade editions, or (gasp) end up giving up the hobby, Half Price Books is usually pretty lucrative as a place to find old tabletop games. If you’re particularly observant, you can also use it as a metric to measure what games are popular around you. Whenever I visit locations in Austin, for example, I can usually find a lot more GURPS material (understandable, Steve Jackson Games is based in Austin) and TSR-era Dungeons and Dragons. Dallas, meanwhile, tends to have a lot of modern-era Dungeons and Dragons, as well as a lot of Warhammer rulebooks.

As the name implies, Half Price Books usually sells used books for massive discounts, making it a fantastic place to find older tabletop materials. My entire collection of 2E and 3.5 rulebooks, as well as most of my Shadowrun books, some of my Star Wars and Pathfinder books, and a variety of smaller systems, some of which I’d never heard of, were all finds from Half Price Books, for pretty reasonable prices!

I’m lucky to live in Texas, as it is the main hub state for Half Price Books, but if anyone is in an area that has a location, and you love books of really any sort, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s especially good if you just wander in and look around with an open mind, trying to find something cool you’d never heard of. You can also shop their online store, which compiles all of their locations’ inventories together and offers them at reasonable prices.

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 11-15

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Another five days have passed, another five prompts to answer! Let’s do it, nerds! For the fourth year in a row, RPGBrigade brings us a month’s worth of prompts to discuss and, in the process, think about and celebrate this great hobby! So, let’s get to it. If you wanna check out the last batch of answers, they’re right here.

August 11th: Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see return?

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Started as a weird 4chan project to make a Neon Genesis Evangelion tabletop RPG, the original creators have abandoned this game after the release of the third edition, which is a damn shame. Evangelion is a fantastic franchise, and I think one that is positively perfect for tabletop play. There’s a heavy emphasis on inter-party conflict, as well as on character growth and development. There’s exciting action, but action that varies from encounter to encounter. Maybe you’ll be diving into a volcano one week, and the next you’ll be performing a synchronized dance with your allies, or trying to bust your way out of a giant dimension sphere. It’s great!

Alas, Adeptus Evangelion is currently on ice, and they finally broke free from the Dark Heresy rules and started to build their own system, and I really want to see what a well-designed system built from the ground up to run Eva looks like.

August 12th: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

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How about an RPG I literally just bought because the interior art inspired me?

Farflung is a Powered by the Apocalypse game that aims to explore science fiction at the fringes, where anything is possible. It’s the end of time, and characters can be, well, it seems like anything. From space-faring gods to emperors to simple explorers, it certainly seems like if you want sci-fi, and the kind where all of the science is explained away with “it’s the future, fuck it”, Farflung seems like your jam.

And, man, the art works for that.

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The very vibrant art is filled with character, with emotion and character, and with style. It emphasizes a very specific kind of sci-fi, the kind where you go on the grandest of adventures and meet kings and gods and decide the fate of planets and discover ancient secrets. It reminds me of Space Dandy and Hitchhiker’s Guide and a bunch of other sci-fi I love.

August 13th: Describe a game experience that changed how you play

Reading Dungeon World.

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I think that, even if you don’t intend to play any Powered by the Apocalypse games, owning one of the ones that’s really full of good GM insight, namely either the eponymous Apocalypse World or Dungeon World is absolutely mandatory. (Before I start any fights, I feel similarly about OSR games).

Dungeon World has a lot of astonishingly good GMing advice, and general good game design concepts, bound together. And, sure, a lot of it is just retreading the road paved by Apocalypse World, but Dungeon World was my first experience with the subgenre, and it was eye-opening.

Fronts. The idea of leaving the questions of your plot open-ended and discovering through play. Establishing Bonds between members of the party. Letting the fiction lead you forward. Dungeon World is an excellent guide on how to GM any game with any semblance of story, any concept of world.

August 14th: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

My answer is going to be a bit skewed, since I’ve never actually been able to run a sandbox game, even though I direly wish I could. So, here’s a bit of a weird pick.

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Yes, dread Pathfinder! The great tangled mass of the 3.X D&D rules, an unholy abomination of sourcebooks upon sourcebooks. How, pray tell, could I pick this game?

Well, Pathfinder‘s glut of rules content also, in my eyes, makes it a prime candidate for sandbox play! Your players can construct any manner of character that they want, given that the game has, like, 40 classes, each of which can be specified using any number of archetypes.

This goes both ways, too. As a GM, it’s easy to construct enemies from scratch using this robust class system to create distinct, thematic enemies. Sprinkle in enemies from the game’s seven or eight Bestiaries, pull from the massive amount of modules and adventures written for 3.X, and add in optional rules from the numerous sourcebooks available and, viola, you have a library of components you can use to assemble each and every asset of a fantasy world.

August 15th: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

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Monsters and Other Childish Things is, in fact, the only game I’ve ever properly worked to adapt, not counting whole rules schemas (like Powered by the Apocalypse). Normally, my designers’ mindset has me just whipping up new rules sets for game ideas not easily handled by existing games.

However, as I wrote an entire blog post aboutMonsters is a fantastic game for use to run a game of my favorite anime, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and so I immediately began adaptation once I had the idea.

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 6-10

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We’re continuing my runthrough of the #RPGaDAY challenge, hoping to get some interesting discussion going about the prompts set forth in this fourth annual challenge, to celebrate this awesome hobby! I posted my last batch of answers on the 5th, so let’s get to it today, August 10th.

August 6th: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!

Well, I have seven days of gaming to fill. I already game two days a week, so we’ll fill in Sunday with the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG game I’m running, and Wednesday with the Shadowrun game I’m running for a different group. Since, as I mentioned last week, that Star Wars group also has a Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition game running concurrently, let’s schedule that for Monday.

Now I have four more days of gaming to fill in! I think Tuesday I’m going to run a one-shot, specifically the Westworld one-shot idea I had, where players won’t know who’s a person and who’s a Host until someone decides to get into their guts and find out.

Now, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are free, and while the temptation to run three more one-shots is strong, I’m instead going to run a…three-shot, I guess. A three-day game, or more accurately, a trilogy of games. Specifically, I want to run a system that I would hypothetically have finished designing at this point, a game called Camp Glacier Peak. It’s a horror game, designed to evoke the “group of teens versus murderous evil” vibe of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Each day would feature a different group of teens at a different time versus the same ancient evil, with one session’s lone survivor potentially becoming next session’s veteran savior of the teens, or crazy old crackpot who turned out to be right. I think it’d be dope.

August 7th: What was your most impactful RPG session?

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I was, god, probably like 13? The system was Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.

I had this great campaign hook set up for my friends. They’d discover this hermit in the woods was methodically hunting down members of a royal family they’d be contracted by. With some investigation, they’d discover that the hermit is in fact a lost son of the family, and the family had been cast down from nobility after a majority of its members turned into vampires. With this, lost brothers would reunite and try to reestablish themselves in the capital city, bringing the party along as their lead executors. This would lead to a variety of amazing adventures spanning the globe, leading to the resurrection and destruction of an ancient god.

When my party was breaking in to the hermit’s cabin, he spotted them, and asked what they were doing. The party ranger shot an arrow at him, critted, and instantly murdered him.

Remember, your players have as much say in your story as you, and you should never expect them to follow the story you expect. Instead, write your games open-ended, and figure out where things go through play. Or else your vampire hunter prince might take an arrow to the eye.

August 8th: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

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hollowpoint is like if Fiasco was written by Quentin Tarantino. A quick story game, hollowpoint is about, by its own description, “bad people killing bad people for bad reasons”. It’s a game designed to quickly emulate massive amounts of violence as your characters become whirling dervishes of death, performing their dark deeds for a nefarious purpose before they probably get cut down in a hail of gunfire or something.

hollowpoint is goddamn ridiculous, reminding me in equal parts of the Crazy 88 fight in Kill Bill: Volume One, the environmental kills in Sleeping Dogs, and, weirdly, this extremely bullshit scene for the criminally underrated Nicholas Cage hit Drive Angry in which Cage’s character smokes a cigar, pulls from a bottle of Jack Daniels, has sex with a bar waitress, and murders a bunch of dudes at the same time. It’s very good.

August 9th: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?
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I don’t necessarily think Mutant: Year Zero plays best at 10 sessions, but I can easily imagine having a good campaign in ten sessions’ time in this game. Mutant: Year Zero is a story about a group of mutants trying to keep their ramshackle town alive after a nuclear apocalypse, exploring the wasteland and trying to find some sort of mythical utopia called the Ark.

Character advancement doesn’t really strike me as one of Mutant‘s focuses, making it easier to do a small campaign without feeling like your character never reached their full potential. The presence of a built in end goal (finding the Ark) easily allows me to envision a 10 session campaign running sort of like a season of a Mutant: Year Zero TV series.

Session one, introduce the world, the town, and the characters. Sessions two through eight, deal with episodic problems that your colony faces (public insurrection, mutants, other colonies, nuclear weather, whatever), and slowly sprinkle in hints to the location of the Ark. Sessions nine and ten, your characters go out and find the Ark, exploring it. Maybe it is great, but maybe it leads to a greater mystery. Complete the campaign having accomplished your goal, but maybe leaving it open ended for a sequel. Who knows?

August 10th: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Uhhh, I don’t usually read straight-up reviews, instead opting to watch Actual Plays to see how the game runs, and try and get a feel for how the game works at the table. Sort of the same way I’ve eschewed reading most game reviews in favor of watching people like TotalBiscuit and Giant Bomb just play the game.

When I do watch reviews (because I usually watch them, not read them), I’ll go to one of two people: Questing Beast or Runeslinger. Questing Beast is definitely neck-deep in the OSR scene, a scene I’m not super familiar with, but I trust his opinions and the stuff he finds is really cool (he got me in to Dungeon Crawl Classics), while Runeslinger has a bit more of a varied palette, but his extensive history with the hobby means I trust his opinions to be rooted in precedent and in experience.

Sorting My Library (and, An Accidental Review of Ninefox Gambit)

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I own, just, a fuckton of books. It’s been a bad habit of mine since a young age, one which has basically only become worse as my childhood allowance became the tips from my college bartending gig, which has since become the big boy paychecks of my corporate programming job. I simply own too many books, even after multiple boxloads have been taken to Half Price Books (which, for the unaware, is a godsend of a store for bibliophiles in the American South).

So, with this in mind recently, and thoughts of moving in the near future in my head as well, I decided to do something about it, and in the process, really spend some time thinking about the way that books exist in my life.

With this goal in mind, I have decided to enact what I’ve decided tentatively to call The Purge. The goals of The Purge are simple: read more books, trim down my collection of books, and to build an increased pool of inspiration from which to pull while making games.

So, the terms of The Purge are these three rules:

1. To purchase a new book, I must first read 5 books

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F’in’ A, time for more “person reading” stock photos

The first rule of The Purge, and the key foundation upon which this whole system works, is that I must immediately limit the amount of books coming into my home, such that they do not outpace the amount of books that I’m reading and, hypothetically, selling and getting out.

Five is a semi-arbitrary number. Reading five books should, I think, take me about a month, and if I had to guess, I’ll probably get rid of two in five (more about that later), meaning that my collection will shrink over time with this rule in place.

The other nice thing about this rule is that it directly pairs my book purchasing rate with my book reading rate. I get to keep buying a ton of books, so long as I’m also reading a ton of books, and that makes sense.

2. If I can’t finish a book in one go, it is immediately sold

I have quite a few books on my shelf that I started and just stopped at some point, for some reason, perhaps because I lost motivation, perhaps because some new shiny distracted me, or what have you. No more. That represents lost productivity and time, because you know if and when I go back, I’ll have forgotten everything and have to restart from square one. For the purposes of working through my backlog, and in the interest of keeping my desire for new books satiated through rule 1, this cannot happen.

So, harsh as it may sound, if I’ve started a book and just, for one reason or another, cannot finish it without starting another book in the meanwhile, that book gets added to the sell pile. It should be noted that I can take pauses from reading a single book, but the second I pick up another book instead, that first book is done. This rule is designed to be flexible enough for life: sometimes I might just not want to read, or I’ll have something else I’d rather do, and that’s not the book’s fault. However, if I do get in a reading mood, and I end up reading something else, well, that is the book’s fault, and away it goes.

3. After finishing a book, I must genuinely consider whether or I want to keep it

I am neither of the opinion that holding on to a read book is useless, nor of the opinion that I should hold on to every book I read. Rather, I consider a shelf full of books a sort of trophy case. When looking at a book on the shelf, merely reading the spine is frequently enough to evoke memories of the story, of the characters, of the cool ideas contained therein.

I work in a naturally creative field, one which encourages pulling from as many sources as possible to create novel ideas. Books are profoundly useful towards this goal, as each can encapsulate so many ideas, making them ripe for the creative plunder. Having a bookshelf full of books serves as a fantastic reminder of all of these ideas, allowing me to quickly recall the ideas worth using or reworking in each book.

So, once I finish a book, I have to consider what purpose it has on my shelf. Is it full of ideas I find inspiring? If so, keep it. Is it just, generally, a useful resource (such as a book of mathematics, programming, or algorithms)? Then, yeah, that stays too.

There’s a metric that has maybe been meaningfully absent in this measure of whether a book stays or not, and that’s if the book is good.

This is to cover two cases that would be detrimental to my cultivation of a good, useful bookshelf. The first is the case of a book that is definitely good, but doesn’t really do anything for me. This is the way I feel about The Chronicles of Narnia series: it’s good, seminal even, but the world it portrays and the characters and the ideas all sort of just bounce off of me. I’m not likely to be pulling from Narnia anytime soon, but if I decided to keep good books, it would sit on my shelf pointlessly, instead of potentially making its way to someone who’d genuinely appreciate it on a greater level than I do.

The second case is equally detrimental, and it’s the case of a book that I didn’t quite enjoy, but contains interesting ideas that I might want to pull from. I have a much more recent example of this, the book I just finished, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit.

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Ninefox Gambit is about as ambitious as sci-fi gets. The world is set up as unmistakably alien, as the fundamental forces of mathematics and physics are not constant, but instead, can be manipulated through what are called “calendars”: strict regimens upon which this entire society is based. For certain sci-fi technologies to work, certain calendrical effects must be enforced, meaning people must follow certain rules, perform certain rituals, even celebrate on certain days and, controversially, torture sacrifices in certain ways.

It’s an astonishingly interesting idea, one which plays with the idea of reality itself being formed as a matter of consensus, not just the perception of it. It’s a sci-fi portrayal of the concept that the fundamental structures of society can affect the people who live in it, and of the friction that occurs when people of differing lifestyles interact. For the hexarchate in Ninefox Gambit, when a heresy breaks out in the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a key border outpost of the empire, a declaration of war is not merely an act of xenophobia, it is a necessity, as the defensive systems on board the station will literally not work unless cultural norms are reestablished.

While this world is, ultimately, fascinating, Lee absolutely makes no attempt to try and give readers a frame of reference, a commonality with which to understand these things. Instead, Lee just charges forth, hoping that you’ll be able to use context clues to piece together very loose language into a cohesive understanding of the world, and sometimes, it’s simply very easy to completely lose grasp of what’s happening. I had to reread pivotal scenes of the book, scenes I could tell were supposed to be extremely meaningful moments, simply because I didn’t understand what was happening.

Despite all of this, Ninefox Gambit will have a place on my bookshelf for the forseeable future. The gusto with which it abandons the familiar in favor of creating a truly alien world, the way it uses this far-flung sci-fi to discuss very real, human ideas, and the sheer imaginativeness of the characters, technologies, and societies of the book are the equivalent of a creative barrel of gasoline, fuel that I can burn to power new ideas for years to come.

This sense, that creative fire, is what I hope to cultivate in my bookshelves through this Purge. By the time I’m “done” with this (which, of course, is a fool’s errand, but I will march forward as best I can), I hope to have shelves of books that no longer taunt me with how few of my books I’ve actually read, but rather that spark inspiration within me on days where I have none. I want to have shelves of books burgeoning with memories and ideas and creativity, to serve as a monument to the creative field as a whole.

Those books that I relinquish, meanwhile, will make their way to a used bookstore, where maybe they will wait, until a bibliophile of different tastes than mine shall discover them and read them and be inspired by them, for while everyone is, in my opinion, an engine capable of great creativity, to continue the metaphor, each engine just runs on different fuel.

 

 

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 1-5

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#RPGaDAY is a fun social media challenge that’s been running for four years now, inviting members of the online tabletop RPG community to answer a prompt a day every day of August, thus getting people to just write about why they love the hobby, inciting conversations, making friends, and just to get everyone thinking about the hobby.

I’m kinda cheating, because instead of flooding my Twitter feed and everyone’s RSS feeds every day (and also writing every day), it works far better for my schedule to respond in clumps of five, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do, starting today, August 5th, with the first five prompts!

August 1st: What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

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Actually, a lot, but to pick just one, for the moment, I’m going to pick Gumshoe, because it’s the one most unlike anything else I’m playing or designing right now. Gumshoe is a mystery game designed under a key observation: finding clues is very rarely the interesting part of mystery games, and it’s almost never interesting to not find a clue. Instead, Gumshoe guarantees investigators to be able to find clues, so long as you know what skills you need to be looking with. Find a body? Use your medical knowledge and immediately find out cause of death. Find some mysterious plant particles? The group’s botanist can immediately rattle off what it is.

While this sounds like a gimme, the crucial observation Robin Laws made was that the interesting part of a Sherlock Holmes story isn’t him rummaging over a crime scene going “I dunno, something’s gotta be here”; it’s him, playing with all the clues in his head, piecing them together logically to solve the mystery. My keeping the pace of the game going by guaranteeing clues, Gumshoe lets players keep going and get to the interesting part: solving the case.

I have 2 Gumshoe games I want to run, each very different, and I can’t wait to get this game to table. Plus, the SRD is free, so anyone interested can take a look!

August 2nd: What is an RPG you’d like to see published?

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The super sentai genre has always had a very solid place in my heart since watching Power Rangers religiously as a child, then discovering Kamen Rider later into my adolescence. The basic genre structure, a group of cool teens gain the power to transform into suited superheroes to fight villains in a monster-of-the-week format, helped to inform a good deal of my storytelling and aesthetic tastes in the superhero genre that not even the best Marvel movies could ever shake.

The problem is that it’s hard to adapt super sentai to a tabletop RPG. The structure is, generally speaking, pretty repetitive: teens have teen problem, monster shows up, teens beat monster, (optional monster grows section for Power Rangers), teens solve teen problem. Despite plenty of fistfights and explosions, the main characters are never really at risk, and there’s a ton of filler fights with garbage enemies that would be super boring.

But at the same time, the genre is so open outside of the codified tropes that super sentai can apply to anything. Power Rangers have been cops, ninjas, samurai, and wizards, and Kamen Riders have been vampires, time travelers, ghost hunters, and my personal favorite, two people sharing a single body.

There’d definitely be some work to do to get the feel just right, and to keep the game interesting, but there are dozens of genres and stories that would be so interesting to experience through the lens of super sentai that I’d love to see this made.

August 3rd: How do you find out about new RPGs?

I’d say I find out about new RPGs two ways. The first is when I just happen across them, which usually happens while I browse either Twitter or /r/rpg. Someone will mention a game in a thread I’ve never heard of, and I’ll go look it up, think it looks cool, and either add it to a wish list or buy it outright. I’ll also discover stuff because it gets put on Bundle of Holding, an excellent PWYW bundle service for RPGs. It’s also just a fantastic way to build up a usable PDF library of games you find interesting.

The other way I find out about RPGs is when I seek them out, usually because I have a campaign or game idea, but don’t know any systems that would run it well. In this case, I’ll post Reddit threads, scour RPGGeek, and also see recommendations for running franchises or ideas similar to my idea, until I come across a new game that fits what I’m looking for. My two most recent RPG purchases came this way: In Dark Alleys, a horror game modelling a character’s spiral into corruption as they discover the unknowable evils lurking in the shadows, and GURPS, because I couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted well, and I went “Fuck it, GURPS it is.”

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

It’s close, but because I don’t feel like counting days, I’m gonna call it a tie. My main gaming group alternates between two campaigns on a weekly basis, one I run, and one run by another GM.

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The game I run is Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG. It’s an amalgamation of all three games in the line, and a campaign I started as I was learning the rules. It’s a bit of a mess rules-wise, as some really neat subsystems ended up falling to the wayside (the Obligation/Duty/Morality system, notably, but also some of the cooler things like the item rarity rules) and some other modifications I made more knowingly (a combination of the group’s newness to RPGs and my hate of tactical combat led to an abstraction of the combat rules), but boy we’re having fun with this. I’ve written all about why I like this game, but this is maybe one of my favorite campaigns I’ve ever run.

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The game which I’ve been playing in is good ol’ Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition, specifically the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure path. I’m, I dunno, a bit more lukewarm about this? I like the group, and I like the DM a lot (his ability to really play the individual characters I’m pretty jealous of, and is a goal I’m working towards), but I think Princes of the Apocalypse might just be really boring? The plot is kinda boring and very tropey, but I think I’m having the most friction with 5E’s character creation? I just feel very funneled into specific archetypes, and my attempts to worm my way out of those just make me feel like I’m being punished by becoming “suboptimal”. Oh well, I like the group and love the DM, so I’ll press on with a new character.

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

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I was between this and third edition Shadowrun, but I had to pick World Wide Wrestling. The complete ridiculousness of every wrestler in frame, the action, the impact you feel from that folding chari, plus the silhouette of the woman in the crowd. “Look, Greg, Johnny Atomic is choking out the Human Flame! And Iron Maiden just hit Boy Stardust in the face with an electric chair! The ref looks pissed! This is awesome!” Considering the focus World Wide Wrestling puts on wrestling as a performance, rather than an actual battle, this works perfect.

Bonus round! What game cover worst captures the spirit of the game?

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Oh my god, look how serious everyone is! There are skulls and spikes and brain-cables everywhere, and you look like some sort of British admiral/space king? What a serious game!

That’s funny, because every story I’ve ever heard about Rogue Trader makes it sound like Dipshits In Space, as the extremely grimdark setting eventually goes up its own ass in every campaign until the whole group is just wielding absolute authority in the dumbest possible ways. Allow me to treat you to a selection from this /r/gametales story told by /u/Draz825:

“After visiting an Imperial pleasure world, he [the captain] ordered corridors converted into canals throughout the ship, in order to better use his speedboat for water skiing. This actually came in handy when a rival ship attempted to board us and suddenly found themselves drowning.”