We’re nearing the end folks, only a scant 12 questions left before RPGaDay ends and we’ve fully ascended into Fall (the second best season, behind winter, this is canon). So, let’s get right on down to it, no preamble!
August 20th: Which game mechanics inspire your play the most?
This question’s pretty open-ended, so my answer here is going to be anything that reinforces character arcs more than just mechanical progression.
In general, the progression of plot is something I’m not compelled by as much as the progression of characters and their relationships, and as a result, anything which mechanically supports the growth and change of characters over time really resonates with me. This could be Burning Wheel‘s Beliefs and Instincts, Apocalypse World‘s Bonds, or even more abstract measures of character change, like Dungeon Crawl Classics’s Corruption.
August 21st: Which dice mechanic appeals to you?
My quick reaction to this question is to mention the exquisite Genesys dice system used in Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars system, but I’ve talked about that system a couple of times, so I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already written.
So, instead, I wanna talk about a relatively new addition to my collection: The Shab Al-Hiri Roach.
A classic RPG written by prolific RPG designed Jason Morningstar, The Shab Al-Hiri Roach is a GM-less microgame about a bunch of professors at a hoity toity private college in the 1920s trying to vie for the greatest influence in academia, while also dealing with the fact that an ancient Sumerian roach god and its oily offspring are rampant in the college, enslaving the minds of people in private.
The dice system has a two main wrinkles that I really like. The first is the way the game categorizes all dice rolls into Academia and Everything Else. For Academia roles, having to do with either the subject matter taught at the school, the workings of the school, or conflicts of status within the school, characters get dice proportional to their status at the school: laypeople and students get d4s, all the way to Deans and other people of esteem getting d12s. However, for Everything Else, that scale is inverted, such that laypeople get d12s, and those that have been so entrenched in academia that they’ve lost sight of the outside world, get d4s. This is a simple, elegant, and fantastic way to model the power structure of academia.
The second thing I like is what the game calls the “Roachy” dice. When you’re currently enslaved by the Shab Al-Hiri Roach, you get an immediate d12 added to your dice rolls, a massive boost to anything you do. If you follow the commands of the Roach (issued, in Sumerian, by a deck of cards you draw from every turn), you get another d12. This means that, if you submit to the power of the Roach, you’ll be handsomely rewarded, but with a simple catch: if you’re possessed by the Roach at the end of the game, you can’t win, and the Roach can only be expelled via a type of card randomly drawn from the deck. So, you might be tempted to consume the Roach to further your goals, but are you willing to, forgive the pun, roll the dice and forfeit your victory?
August 22nd: Which non-dice system appeals to you?
I personally am a big fan of Ben Robbins’s microscope, a game about create large eras of history. microscope isn’t played with dice, or really even random resolution. Instead, each player takes turns inserting periods of history and events into an increasing timeline, the only constraints being a collection of Yes/No topics decided upon at the start of the game, and the singular rule to not contradict any other events on the timeline.
microscope is a fantastic game of its own right, just because of its potential to let even a relatively non-participatory group of players generate a massive world of their own design and fill it with the most interesting details. The game’s real genius is that it provides just enough framework from the get-go that players always have something to go off of, and as the game continues, and the picture of this world gets more and more clear, it becomes easier and easier to add to.
microscope is also fractal in design, meaning that players can either add massive sweeping events and eras to the timeline, or drill deep down into the events of individuals and try and determine how their lives shape the entirety of history, both done with an equal amount of detail and similar mechanics. The best part about microscope, in my opinion, is that after you’re done, you not only have a tangible artifact of your play (the notecards that generated the setting can easily be reassembled), but you can then set your “regular” game inside of your game of microscope, and get instant setting buy-in from everyone at the table. How cool is that?
August 23rd: Which game do you hope to play again?
Both of my Shadowrun 3E campaign attempts have died and gone to scheduling hell, which I find extremely disappointing. While complaints about the system being pretty clunky in some regards (insert commentary about Matrix and Astral Plane time distortion, grenade rules, and massive dice pool resolution here), but I definitely love this game. The mood is so deliciously nineties while still having just enough clarity of modern design to shave away some of the hard edges (it was released in the mid-2000s, which let’s be real, is just the late late 90s).
There are a lot of reasons I love Shadowrun. The setting is incredible, the dice pool system can create some really unexpected and cool results (what was meant to be an eensy weensy warning fireball might end up instantly incinerating a guy), and it has just the right amount of tactical combat and gear porn to make it one of my “deep combat” games of choice, without bogging the game down too bad if you plan around some of the system’s pitfalls.
While a lot of the editions of Shadowrun have their ups and downs, Third Edition lives in my heart as the game that toes the line between modern convenience and that classic 90s retro charm.
August 24th: Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?
There are a lot of superhero RPGs out there, and a lot of them are good, but one that constantly gets overlooked despite being great is Wild Talents.
I’m gonna frontload the negatives here: Wild Talents is a system that’s pretty intense on the GM, requiring them to do a decent amount of prep and approval. It can also take a bit to wrap your head around, especially if you’re already pre-wired to handle more D&D-esqe dice systems. Now onto the good stuff.
Wild Talents has a fantastically flexible character creation system which lets you build basically any superpower you want with little to no houseruling. The One-Roll Engine that the game is built on makes combat super easy to resolve (in, dare I say it, one roll). The game mechanics feed into this great narrative of triumph and failure as characters become empowered and disenfranchised. The Hard and Wiggle dice allow players a decent amount of control over their own success, ensuring that characters can behave as expected in critical circumstances.
I actually wanna zoom in on that last one, because it’s very cool. The way the ORE works is that you roll a bunch of d10s, and your result is based on any matches you accumulate. The side of the die showing is called the Height, and determines the quality of the action, and the number of dice in the set is the Width, and determines the speed. So, a set of three 8s has a Height of 8 and a Width of 3.
Wiggle Dice can be changed to show any side, ensuring that, as long as you’re rolling at least one other die, you always have a set. You can always accomplish a task, and usually pretty well. Multiple Wiggle Dice in a roll mean you have precise control over how well you do. However, in character creation terms, Wiggle Dice are expensive. In come Hard Dice.
A Hard Die shows a 10. Always. Get multiple Hard Dice, and you can guarantee a set with a Height of 10, all the time. These dice are much cheaper, but have a really interesting problem: they’re always maximally effective. If you’re throwing that fireball, that fireball’s always big enough to burn down a city block. If you’re punching a guy, you’re always gonna punch a hole through them. This kind of, literally, uncontrollable power is so interesting, and is the primary reason I think Wild Talents is one of the best superhero games on the market.
August 25th: Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year?
Dungeon World, but not necessarily because of the game itself. About a year ago also just so happens to be the precise time I started my current job, which I felt super out of place at when I first began. It was a very impostor-syndrome-style creeping terror that consumed me for a little bit, just this striking feeling of “holy shit, why the fuck am I here?”
One of the best things I did early on was put out a feeler into a work Slack channel to see if anyone was interested in starting a lunchtime RPG group. Lo and behold, a few people were, and with some deliberations, we decided on playing Dungeon World.
While the makeup of that group has changed over the last year, as people have left and joined the group thanks to the incomprehensible, esoteric workings of Corporate America, the most Lovecraftian of horrors, the friends I’ve made in that group have not only just been great friends, but they’ve reminded me that, yes, I can in fact be a respectable member of adult society.
August 26th: What’s your gaming ambition for the next year?
Actually publish a damn thing.
I’ve been designing games for probably close to ten years now as a hobbyist, but all that’s amounted to is a bunch of half-finished projects. Granted, a lot of those years were spent as a teen or tween, and those games were, to use the technical term, bad, but I still feel like I should try to get one of my projects done and up for download by the general public. This means taking it through the entire process: design, playtesting, layout, editing, the whole nine yards.
I don’t really expect to make my millions in that sweet sweet indie RPG money, but having something published is something that I just haven’t done yet, so I need to just finish something up and release it to the world. Ideally, I’ll be releasing a bunch of stuff, but for the moment, we’ll set the goal at a reasonable, tangible number of one.