10 Good Ideas: Fallout: New Vegas and the Faction System

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It is frankly astonishing to me that I haven’t talked about Fallout: New Vegas significantly on this blog, because I think it might be my favorite game? I have a tattoo symbolizing it, after all, so I should probably talk about it.

For me, the shining jewel in New Vegas‘s crown of good design is the faction system. You see, from basically the moment you set foot out in the Mojave Wasteland, you become immediately aware of a series of factions, wielding varying amounts of power. Some, like the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion, are massive, world-bending forces vying for complete control of the Wasteland. Others, like the Powder Gangers and the Great Khans, are smaller gangs who control small pieces of turf in the Wasteland. Others yet are singular towns, like Goodsprings and Novac, just trying to get by.

The previous Fallout game, Fallout 3, had a binary morality system which existed on a single scale from good to evil, which was fine? Ultimately, it ended up feeling like your character was either a saint, a monster, or just some sort of morally ambiguous blob. If you were bad, bad people liked you. If you were good, good people liked you. It was something, certainly more than a lot of games, but it wasn’t terribly interesting. New Vegas did away with this, and did something great.

You see, New Vegas measures not your morality, but your standing with each individual faction. This is so good for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it allows for a greater moral depth to your character. In Mass Effect, a game with a traditional morality scale, I always felt like the scale didn’t quite capture the way my Shepherd behaved: I was a mondo dick to most everyone, but fiercely loyal to my crew members. The game just ended up labeling me “mostly a mondo dick”, which I found kind of incomplete. In New Vegas, if I want to be a valuable ally to the factions that align themselves with me, and a complete scourge to anyone in my way, the game mechanically portrays that. Instead of just everyone thinking I’m kind of an asshole, the people I’m allied with will treat me like an old friend, and the people who hate me will shoot me on sight.

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Here’s another cool thing: these faction reputations are on multiple axes. There are separate measures of Fame and Infamy, meaning that if you murder a bunch of Powder Gangers, then out of the blue give them a ton of help, they’re reaction isn’t to just do a 180 and love you, instead they’re actively confused, as they should be.

Just having this system is really cool, but the way the game leverages this to make interesting missions, and interesting mission solutions, makes it even better. An entire act of the game basically requires you become either favored by or to destroy whole factions in order to pave the road for the final conflict. Some missions become much easier, as you would expect, with certain faction reputation. If some rando needs the NCR to jump in to defend a town, it might require a bit of convincing. If a valuable ally of the NCR needs them to defend a town, however, sure, we owe the guy this.

That’s, ultimately, the cleverness of the faction system, is that it is such a powerful narrative and mechanical force. The main plot of New Vegas is actively changed by which factions you ally with and which you forsake. The final fight on Hoover Dam can be fought on either side, or optionally you can storm it as a dark horse force all your own. Whether you fight the battle all your own, with the help of one of the big factions, with the booming artillery of the Boomers, or any other number of factors depends on your faction rankings. Hell, if you don’t like any of the big factions, you can basically assemble one on your own, a patchwork of all of the factions you like.

On the flip side, the faction system provides mechanical representation of your narrative choices within the game world. The merchants available to you change depending on your faction reputation. Your reputation with certain factions determines how you think of the game map, with certain areas changing from bastions of safety to enemy fortresses depending on your choices and your reputation. The big factions might even send hit squads to kill you if they hate you enough. Your experience in the game world changes based on your factions, and each playthrough is different depending on your different faction alignments.

The faction system is a nuanced, clever way to represent the way the player interacts with the game world, and also changes the game world in response to the player’s choices, creating a cyclical force which strengthens the player’s connection to the Mojave Wasteland, and for that, it’s a Good Idea.

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10 Good Ideas: Age of Mythology and God Powers

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A lot of people have an RTS which defines their youth. For some it’s Starcraft, others Warcraft III, others yet maybe played Age of Empires II or Command and Conquer. For me, though, one game in the genre ruled my childhood, and that game was Ensemble Studios’s spin-off of the Age of Empires series, a fantastical, mythological romp called Age of Mythology.

I’m not really one for super-tactical RTS play. I’ve played all of the above games, but I never really considered them my favorites. The tactics and planning involved in them are very long-term and forward-thinking, meaning the atomic elements of your victory or defeat ultimately lie in very minor decisions early into the game, like how you manage your worker units, what units you build in what order, and where you build your structures. Extremely deep and tactical, yes, but hardly an explosive or exciting turn of events. I found that, often times in RTSs, I had moments where either an enemy just snowballed so far past me due to superior decision making in these microdecisions, or I suffered death by a thousand cuts and went “Oh, I guess I lose now”.

Age of Mythology certainly still has these elements, and I’m sure if I played it anything resembling competitively, I’d still have to worry about those microdecisions, but Age of Mythology offers something to the casual player that has that kind of explosive game-altering effect that normal RTS play kind of doesn’t: god powers.

You see, when playing a game of Age of Mythology, you select one of 5 ancient civilizations to play, and each has a pantheon of gods to worship. Worshipping those gods requires spending resources and building structures to enter different Ages, these Ages constituting the main source of progression through a game. When you successfully worship a god, they usually grant you a new kind of unit you can build, as well as a god power: a single use ability that can be triggered at any time.

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While the effects of any given atomic gameplay decision in an RTS tends to have relatively minor changes to the game space (think building or killing a single unit, pursuing a single upgrade, or assigning a worker to a single task), god powers are usually big, bombastic, and seemingly tide-turning. Some, like Lightning Storm and Earthquake, can wipe out meticulously constructed armies and bases with ease. Others, like Lure or Forest Fire, can create massive imbalances in the game’s economy. Others yet can instantly boost armies with powerful units, like Nidhogg and Ragnarok, providing a trump card that can turn a losing battle into a winning one, and some like Underworld Passage can grant players increased mobility with their armies, allowing for some underhanded positioning.

God powers provide flashy, game-changing moments in a genre not typically known for them, and they’re provided at a constant drip throughout the game, rather than just saving them at the end (like Starcraft‘s Nukes). They also, of course, add tactical depth to the game for more seasoned players. The game announces whenever you’ve successfully worshipped a god, so veteran players will know what god powers everyone has. Furthermore, you can pick between two gods, and thus two god powers, every time you advance an Age, giving you tactical choices in how you decide to progress.

God powers serve a valuable purpose for new or casual players. Getting god powers requires you to successfully advance your Age, which in turn requires you to perform certain steps, be it building structures, accruing Favor (an in-game resource), or assigning workers to certain roles. By putting requirements on god powers like this, it forces new players to think strategically in order to get the requirements for their Age. In another layer of genius, every civilization accrues Favor differently, in a manner fitting of their strengths, meaning that for a new player to get the Favor needed to get a god power, they have to play to their civ’s strengths, incentivizing them to play in a more strategic manner. God powers are a reward for playing smart.

For experienced players, god powers are equally valuable. Since god powers ultimately are obtained by doing the things that mark normal good RTS play (tactical base construction, good build queue management, etc), god powers serve as a reward and a reinforcement for the play you’re already used to doing. The selection of god powers, and playing around your opponent’s god powers, grants greater strategic depth. The game-breaking effects of god powers also let you perform extremely silly and off-the-wall strategies that wouldn’t work without them, like leading your enemy into seemingly unfair battle, only to summon Nidhogg and lay waste to the previously superior army.

God powers are ideal for a mix-up to the RTS formula because they provide something for both casual and experienced players. For casual players, they provide, big, flashy, cool effects that can change the shape of the game, and they help rebuke strategies that might end up steamrolling them early on (a big enemy army can be destroyed by Lighting Storm, and suboptimal resource gathering can be bolstered by Lure). For experienced players, god powers add an extra layer of strategic depth to the game, further raising the skill ceiling. By giving something to both casual and experienced players, god powers in Age of Mythology are a Good Idea.

 

A Gaijin’s Perspective on Gaming in Japan: Tabletop Gaming

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I was slightly familiar with the Japanese tabletop gaming scene upon heading over there. I knew that one existed, because I was aware of some of the games that had made their way over to the States. A few Japanese tabletop RPGs have been translated to English, most notably Ryuutama, the above pictured Golden Sky Stories, and Tenra Bansho Zero. Japanese board games have found a bigger foothold in America, with games like Love LetterMachi Koro, and Kobayakawa.

A question I had about this hobby in Japan was one of space. I stayed in four apartments over the course of my time in Japan, and none had suitable space to host a group of 4 to 6 (an average amount of people for a tabletop gaming group) for a long gaming session. On top of that, having a table big enough to host a Dungeons and Dragons game, let alone a larger board game like Dead of Winter or, god forbid, a Warhammer game seemed unlikely.

The response to this problem, it seems, is threefold. The first factor in the survival of tabletop gaming in the cramped space of Japan is that the scene has evolved to make games easily played in a small amount of space. I spent a decent amount of time perusing Japanese tabletop hobby shops, most notably a chain called Yellow Submarine, and judging by what those stores kept in stock, it seems like trading card games are definitely the number one tabletop game genre.

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From what I could tell, Cardfight!! Vanguard definitely seems to be the “in” game in Japan right now, although card shops always seemed to have large sections of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Pokemon Trading Card Game, and even Magic. On top of that, bargain bins had collections of tons of games past their prime that I didn’t even recognize, indicating a fairly long history of games at least attempting to take the spotlight for the local card game scene (after all, Cardfight!! is only about six years old).

The prevalence of TCGs makes sense. They require relatively little space to play, and also tap into what seemed to be the innate otaku drive to collect stuff. TCGs are, by their nature, super collectible and, if they take off, super profitable. TCG decks are pretty easy to transport, and if Friday Night Magic is any indication back home, pretty easy to cultivate a scene around.

Japanese board games are still a thing, but the games that seem to be popular, or at least, the design trends that seem popular, are for minimalism. Most of the shops I went into sold big box games like Dead of Winter or Arkham Horror, but looking at what was stocked the most, and most interestingly, what games were made in Japan, the games that were most prevalent were very small games, many of which were in boxes no bigger that a TCG deck box. I ended up picking up a few of these, partially because they packed really easy, and partially because the minimalist design seemed to also translate to their components, rules, and art style.

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Pictured from left to right: Maskmen, Insider, Night Clan, and my US copy of Coup

 

With minimal design as the first factor, the second factor contributing to the Japanese tabletop game scene is the prevalence of public game spaces, where people could go to play assorted games. Yellow Submarine, as well as most of the hobby shops I went in to, dedicated as much as half of their floorplan to tables for people to play games on. This isn’t terribly uncommon back in the States, but the premium put on square footage in Japan makes this more significant. Clearly, providing this space must be important for a shopkeeper to devote that much space to it.

This is probably similar in social construction to the arcades I talked about in my last post. There’s no real room to host a bunch of people in your apartment, nor will social norms allow you to get really rowdy at home around a game, so a public space like this lets you meet up with your friends and really let loose playing a game. This ties back to the first point: if you’re playing your tabletop games at a shop, not at home, games that you can easily throw into a bag and take with you on the train are probably going to win out over big box games.

The third factor in the Japanese tabletop game scene is that, whenever Japan does take on a game or a genre that orginates from the West, they do so on their own terms to better suit their needs. Take tabletop RPGs for example. When I saw my first shelf of Japanese TRPGs, I was surprised by two things. The first was that Japan appears to call them “Tabletalk RPGs”, which I have to wonder is just a mishearing that accidentally propagated through the subculture, and the second was how small the books were.

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Pictured from top to bottom are Insane, the Dark Souls TRPG, a book I absolutely do not know, Dungeon World, the D&D 5 PH, and the Pathfinder Core Rulebook

I know “the books are small” is basically just a rehashing of the first point, but small RPG books are just sort of not a thing in the US. We can make small board games (see Coup), but western RPG rulebooks are, as a rule, generally enormous. The classic D&D triumvirate of books are three, fairly large, hardcover books, and even “small” games like Dungeon World or Fate are still noticeably larger than the Japanese standard book size. They do tabletop RPGs, a most-decidedly Western invention, but they toss out the standards that don’t suit their needs, like the devotion to ridiculous books.

I think it’s worth nothing that this “we took it, but we changed it to fit us” mentality actually goes for a lot of things in Japan. With very few exceptions, I noticed few things from “home” that made its way to Japan did so unchanged. This rang especially true in Amerikamura, a neighborhood of Osaka that’s sort of like if you shoved hip-hop streetwear, post-Cold War Cuba, and modern Manhattan together? Japanese culture takes what it wants and ruthlessly modifies it to its own ends, rather than paying reverence to any sense of “authenticity”.

Some things that just can’t be easy “Japan-ified” just seem like they straight up do not do well in Japan. I actually, by accident, found a Games Workshop store in Japan, but frankly, there were not a lot of people in it, and I wasn’t able to find a lot of GW merch in other hobby shops around Tokyo and Osaka. That makes sense: Warhammer and other miniature wargames require a lot of space, not only to play, but to store armies and paints, and space required to assemble and paint your units. Combine this with the fact that I don’t think any tabletop wargames really capture Japan’s aesthetic tastes (except maybe Infinity, which I expected to see more of, honestly), and it’s understandable that tabletop wargames aren’t terribly popular in the land of the Rising Sun.

So, yeah, make games small, play them in shops, and take big games and make them smaller. Those are the three tenants that seem to drive the Japanese tabletop game scene. It’s working, too: despite going in at weird hours, there were always a good number of people in the hobby shops alongside me, and there were always games going at the tables. I’m happy, too: seeing the industry adapt and thrive in this very different social and economic space forces creativity, and designers hoping to see this hobby from a different angle can easily do so just by looking elsewhere.

 

September Announcement: The 10 Good Ideas Series

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I like a lot of video games, y’all. So many, in fact, that I’ve felt like I’ve got a lot of games I’d like to talk about on this blog that I just haven’t. So, as a contrivance and a motivator to write a bunch of posts during the month of September, I’ll be launching what I’m calling the 10 Good Ideas Series!

The premise is, well, so simple that calling it a “series” is a stretch. I have ten games that I like a lot, all games I’ve beaten at least once, and I want to write about how much I like them. So, from each game I’ve selected a single game mechanic or other good piece of design, and each will receive a short post on that bit of design, plus probably just a bit of rambling about how much I like that game.

The posts will come out probably about at a pace of once every three days or so, ensuring a constant stream of good game design straight to your eyeballs. Or, I dunno, ears, if you have some sort of digital dictator.

Without further ado, here are the 10 games. As I go to publish the posts, these will become hyperlinks to take you straight to each game’s posts. The games, and their good ideas that I’ll be talking about, are:

  1. Age of Mythology – god powers
  2. Fallout: New Vegas – the faction system
  3. Blitz II: The League – thirty yard downs
  4. Halo 3: ODST – non-linear storytelling
  5. Dead Rising 2 – combo weapons
  6. Gears of War 3 – the Retro Lancer
  7. Mass Effect 2 – interrupts
  8. You Don’t Know Jack – Screws
  9. The Darkness – ….darkness
  10. Bloodborne – trick weapons

So, yeah, look forward to that! Got a nice mix of popular and obscure titles in there, I like to think, and some non-obvious picks for a couple of those design decisions (I think enough people have talked about the Rally system in Bloodborne that I have nothing interesting to add).

On top of that, my observations on tabletop gaming in Japan should be coming up pretty soon, and I’m working on a feature highlighting some cool games I found on itch.io which should be a good way to check out some awesome, lesser known indie work. Look forward to it!

A Gaijin’s Perspective on Gaming In Japan: Video Games

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I’m back, and I’m hideously jet-lagged! I just spent the last two weeks (and some change) wandering Japan. This was my first trip to Japan, my first trip to Asia, and my first time travelling alone internationally. To summarize the more general feelings on the trip: Japan is the best and everyone should go there because it rules in all the ways you think it would and in quite a few surprising ways too.

Now that that’s said, I wanted to talk for a little bit about gaming as a subculture in Japan. I visited three large metropolitan cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, each of which is home to at least a million people, with Tokyo being home to nine million. While I was there, alongside my sightseeing adventures I went out of my way to try and peek into what it was like to play games in Japan, both video games and tabletop games.

We’ll start with Japan’s video game scene, which I think can be divided into three main subcategories: console games, mobile games, and arcades (pachinko and pachislot probably could form a fourth category, but I didn’t go into any pachinko parlors because they were very loud and intimidating and had no English signage).

Console gaming seemed relatively common, judging by the frequency of stores selling games. Granted, I spent a lot of time in large media retail neighborhoods (namely Akihabara in Tokyo, and Nipponbashi in Osaka), but most stores which sold any sort of media had at least a floor dedicated to console games. Unsurprisingly, Sony and Nintendo seemed to rule this market, and handhelds seemed to have an edge over consoles.

Even outside of “retro” or “collector’s” shops, I found it fairly easy to find games from a couple of console generations ago. Stores I would consider analogous to American big box electronics stores had PS2 and original Xbox games for sale alongside modern releases. I wonder if the urge to upgrade to the latest and greatest isn’t as strong in Japan as it is in the States, a trend I also noticed in people having older mobile phones.

The way games were physically presented were also slightly unusual from my perspective. Few games had any sort of spine art aside from the name in plain black text on a white background, and from the looks of it this trend is at least as old as the Gamecube. I wonder if the console game space is considered a bit more of an “otaku” market in Japan, and advertisement is considered less necessary: the fans’ll know what they want. The only things that did seem to have stylized spines were Western games, usually quarantined to their own shelves.

Mobile gaming seems to be much more of a thing in Japan, which makes sense. Average people have a decent amount of downtime on trains in the big cities, giving you perfect time to play a little bit of a smaller game. Advertising for mobile games was everywhere, on TV and on billboards and posters in train stations. Games that seemed popular (or, at least, were advertising a lot) included Granblue FantasyFinal Fantasy XV: A New EmpireLineage IIPokemon GoClash Royale, and Puzzle and Dragons, among others.

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The last point of note for video games is arcades, and oh man, Japanese arcades are intense. Everyone in the arcade gave off a vibe like they’ve been going to the arcade every day for the last ten years. People were just chain smoking and slamming tall boys and playing Street Fighter or Guilty Gear with skill that was visibly beyond just some dudes button mashing. There was some exemplary skill going on in there, and on top of that, a sense of community, like these guys and gals have been running sets against each other for months, maybe years.

Watching this was interesting, but the stuff I found really cool was a section of games that required more intense setups than a normal home game console. To this end, I ended up playing a lot of Gunslinger Stratos.

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The Gunslinger Stratos controllers (and my pants)

Gunslinger Stratos is a third-person arena battle game (a genre that appears to be very in style in Japanese arcades right now), where you control your character through two lightguns with buttons and control sticks built onto them. The game involves a lot of running around and shooting people, but the way you switch weapons is interesting: you have to physically reconfigure the controllers in order to make new weapons appear. For instance, for a character I was playing, placing one gun physically on top of the controller turned both of my one-handed weapons into a single sniper rifle. It was very cool.

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Also check out this sweet battle Grandpa

The game I found the most interesting, though, was Lord of Vermillion. Completely unplayable outside of the specialized cabinet, Lord of Vermillion utilizes two screens. The first, a typical screen in front of the player, shows the game scene, a sort of RTS battle between armies in what appeared to be a sort of mythologized Feudal Japanese setting. The cool part, though, is the second screen, which is a sort of tabletop surface between the player and the main display.

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On this screen, the guy I was watching was playing actual, physical trading cards, presumably with NFC chips in them, which was creating units in the game space. Moving the cards along the screen moved the units, and it looked like moving them in certain ways activated special abilities (at least, that’s what it seemed like, I can’t read Japanese after all).

This is awesome. As someone has always been very susceptible to the craze of trading card games, the idea of being able to manifest the characters on your cards in a game space, in the way promised by episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! back in the day, was incredible to see. On top of that, it conjured up this really cool idea of being able to walk into any arcade in the city with this deck of cards that represents your personal collection, your army, and literally throwing them on the table, bringing up your customized army into this game space, adding that personal customization to an otherwise impersonal gaming space. Combine that with the fact that you have this physical collection, this representation of your characters in the game, and I was hooked. 

Seeing how arcades have been able to evolve in Japan since the eighties-style arcades we think of in America is really interesting. In their inception, arcades were cool because you couldn’t play these games at home. As home consoles became more and more common, the usefulness of the American arcade was reduced. In Japan, however, that wasn’t the case. Perhaps since home consoles never really took off to quite the same degree as in the West, arcades were still needed as a place to play “home console” games.

On top of that, Japanese apartments are usually small and, in order to maintain good relations with your neighbors, quiet. Thus, arcades also provide a space to get rowdy with a bunch of other people playing games together, in a way that would leave you all cramped and your neighbors pissed if you did it at home. Combine this with games that literally can only be played with specialized cabinets, like Gunslinger Stratos and Lord of Vermillion, and arcades held their positions as one-of-a-kind experiences in Japan.

So, yeah, the Japanese arcade space is crazy. And, on the note of public spaces for playing games, next time I’ll talk about the Japanese tabletop game space, which I find equally fascinating as well as indicative of Japanese culture in general.

#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!

#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.

augmentedReality

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.