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.
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?
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 Gentlemen, Unbreakable, Kick-Ass, Hellboy. 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?
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 Blade, League of Legends, Eternal, 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.
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?
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.