#RPGaDay, Day 27: Favourite Idea for Merging Two Games

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgI haven’t actually merged two games together before. I’ve played in campaigns where there was a parallel group, and the GM eventually brought us together for the big conclusion. That was a lot of fun and was handled really well by the GM, and made the lead-up to the final battle particularly epic.

An idea I’ve had for a while, though, is using two different game systems to build a campaign. I’m fairly certain others have had the idea, but I want to build the campaign setting using the Microscope game and then decide the game system to used based on the setting we create. For those not familiar with the game, Microscope is a storytelling game in which the players build the history and tell the stories of their world. They set certain parameters at the start (yes magic, no unicorns, and so on) and a time span (Formation of Star League to the Heat Death of the Universe). Then they begin adding in the pieces of that world’s history.

Ideally we’d go through a session of Microscope, build our world, and then decide what system might be the best fit. Then I’d take what we’d created for the world, flesh it out, and add some things the players won’t know about (every campaign needs surprises). What I love about this plan is the level of immersion the players will have in a world they helped create. And it allows us to fit the game system to the campaign, instead of trying to shoehorn a campaign the players like into a game system.

How do you merge two games? Comment below and let’s discuss.

#RPGaDay, Day 26: Favourite Inspiration for Your Game

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgMy favourite inspiration for gaming largely depends on what game I’m running. In general, books and shows/movies inspire campaign ideas across the genres. I also get a lot of inspiration from non-fiction sources; for years I used National Geographic Magazine as a source for adding cultural flavour to my games and characters, for instance.

As a GM who sometimes run modern or Cthulhu-based games, one of my favourite inspirations is The Weekly World News, a tabloid of the “Wolf Boys Live Among Us!” variety. I’ve lost count of the number of story ideas I’ve pulled  from that paper. I’ve even used it as an in-game prop, using it as adventure inspiration, as well as the source of potential clues for that adventure. If you can’t find a copy anywhere (it is online but I prefer the hard copy), Reddit is a great way to get some of the same crazy ideas and stories. Just type in your subject and go down the rabbit hole.

But my favourite inspiration for my games, hands-down, are my players. Directly or indirectly, my players are responsible for more campaign ideas than any other source. It’s not really hard; listen to your players while you game, and take note of key phrase like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “I hope that…”. Those are obviously things which excite my players, so I try to fit them in whenever I can. I don’t always give them exactly what they want, but I try to make the thing they’re excited about a key component of the campaign at some point.

What’s your favourite inspiration? Comment below.

#RPGaDay, Day 25: Favourite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

25484_640One of my favourite games from my early RPG days, which I sadly never got to play, was Skyrealms of Jorune. It was one of those games that, were I bit older when I came across it, I likely would have appreciated it more. At the time, though, I loved it because it featured none of the races standard to other games of the era, and reminded me very heavily of the Barsoomian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

What made it particularly special was how you advanced your character. Unlike most other RPGs of the time which focused on killing and looting as the mains paths to advancement, Skyrealms of Jorune took a different path. In order to advance your character in SoJ you needed to be…a good citizen. Yep, you heard me. Each character was on a quest to increase his/her/its standing in the community. You carried with you a tablet, and as you did favours and tasks for current citizens they would mark off so many tallies on your tablet. If you did something particularly impressive, the citizen might make the journey to the main temple where these tallies were eventually stored, and permanently record your deeds (which counted as a considerably large number towards your tally total). Once you reached the necessary number of marks on your tablet, you became a citizen. Of course, if were found to be a poor candidate, or failed often enough at tasks, citizens could mark against you.

It was an interesting departure from the standard “explore, kill, loot” model of most RPGs of the time. And being a teenager when I first encountered it guaranteed I wouldn’t appreciate the game for what it was, and so it languished on my shelf, often read but never played. I mean, it also suffered from issues many other games had; a plethora of made up vocabulary in an attempt to show its uniqueness, an interestingly flavoured but clunky magic system, and randomization which could derail encounters pretty quickly. But I do wish I had played it more.

What’s your favourite mechanic? Comment below!

#RPGaDay, Day 24: Favourite House Rule

My favourite house rule is one I implemented for the Jade Regent Adventure Path campaign we just started. Instead of tracking XP and making sure they get enough at the right times, I’m going to just level them as appropriate. I wouldn’t do it for a regular homebrew campaign. But for the Pathfinder Adventure Paths it just makes sense, and it’s the best way to make sure they are level appropriate as they move through the books.

The challenge becomes, how do I reward them for particularly good role-playing? Usually I give out extra XP for those sorts of things. In this case, the AP we’re running actually helps. Jade Regent ties each PC to one of the main NPCs, and a lot of the ongoing story is how their relationship develops. So one of the best ways for me to reward good role-playing is to give bonus perks to the PC’s relationship status, which will have deliver a mechanical bonus to the PC in time. As well, bonus magic, usually in the form of one-use items, is a good way to reward RP at low-levels. At higher levels, I like to add something interesting or quirky to an existing magic item just to give the PC a little bonus, and make their life interesting.

What’s your favourite house rule? Comment below!

#RPGaDay, Day 23: Perfect Game for Me

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgMuch of what makes a perfect game for me ties back to what I was talking about yesterday; it’s more the people I’m gaming with than the game itself. Good players, after all, can make even a bad or mediocre game enjoyable. And with the right group role-playing can pop up in almost any game, as witnessed by the wonderfully role-played games of Shadows Over Camelot I’ve enjoyed.

But stipulating that, I have to say my perfect game is whatever my Thursday Night Heroes are playing. I’ve played with basically the same group of guys on Thursday nights, going on 9 years now. We’ve changed locations (various living rooms, basements, and even board rooms at BioWare), games (D&D, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Pathfinder), and had a few members come and go. We also weather scheduling issues, which can become a problem for any long-running group. Somehow we keep making it work, though.

More in the spirit of the question, though, my perfect game would feature mechanics which enhance role-playing instead of interrupting it. In as much as dice rolling is necessary, it should happen quickly and cleanly, and lead right back to the GM and players telling a story. The game should feature a tangible way to reward good storytelling and role-playing, whoever does it. Many games feature rewards for players in this regard, but I’d love to find a game which rewards the GM somehow.

Yes, I know, today’s post is a bit more vague than usual. What are you going to do?

What’s your perfect game? Comment below.

#RPGaDay, Day 22: Perfect Gaming Environment

P1000011_smI don’t really have any preference when it comes to the physical environment I game in. I’m just as happy to sit around a living room as I am to sit at a table, or play at a store or con as opposed to a private home. I do have a separate room at home for gaming and I’ve been slowly making it more comfortable and cool (and resisting the urge to use it as convenient storage). But I’ll pretty much play anywhere.

What I care more about is who I game with. There’s a short-list of gaming friends who I will play with at the drop of a hat, and a slightly broader list that I enjoy playing with whenever I have the chance. (There is also, unfortunately, a list of folks I enjoyed gaming with but likely not have a chance to game with again; for a long time, until I got my depression under tighter control, I was a VERY unreliable gamer. If you don’t show up to play, whatever the reason, you’re hurting the group’s fun and most will ask you to leave. Which I agree with.) All of these folks have a few things in common, which keeps them on my radar as potential game table companions:

Enthusiasm – No surprise, I like playing with folks who like games. I’ve played at the table when there is one other person who’s into the game, and the rest are varying shades of “meh”. No thanks. As I have more and more pressure on my game time, I would prefer not to play, than play with folks who don’t love gaming. I don’t need my table-mates to be constantly over-the-top excited every second we play together. But I want the people at the table to want to be there.

Note, this has nothing to do with new gamers. New gamers might not totally enthusiastic yet, because they are just getting into the hobby and may not be sure it’s for them yet. But in that case what I also want is:

Openness – Be open to what we’re playing. Any gamer will tell you, there are bad games out there. Not every game can be a Pathfinder or Trail of Cthulhu, sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck with a D&D 4th Edition. But I like gaming with folks who will give the game we’re playing an honest chance, and not bail (mentally or physically) before we’ve had a chance to really try it out. I’m willing to give any RPG a shot, because playing RPGs is not only one of my favourite things to do, but even bad RPGs can have cool elements. I’m not 4th Edition’s biggest fan by any stretch, but I totally loved the idea of passive Perception and Insight that was introduced, and stole that as a house rule for any other RPG I GM. So just a willingness to give whatever game we’re playing a fair shot goes a long way to keeping you at my table.

Generosity – This ties back to those new gamers I mentioned above. I love playing with people who are excited to share our hobby with newcomers. I have no time to waste on gatekeepers of any size, shape, or stripe. I get that there are folks, having lived through the “bad old days” before role-playing was cool (it was always cool, by the way, those people were jerks), who feel that new gamers should have to “pay their dues”. But why? For me, the whole point of going through that crap in bygone years was to make the hobby better and more inclusive. Basically, I paid extra dues so that future gamers don’t have to pay any. You want to game? Cool, hand me those dice and let me show you a thing; we’re going to have a metric %@*&load of fun, friend!

Note that no where on my list do I mention anything about extensive game knowledge, tactical brilliance, or even skill. Any and all of those things will improve as you game, so if you don’t have them the solution is…more games! If you’ve got at least a smidge of the three qualities I listed above, you’re welcome at my table anytime.

What’s your perfect gaming environment? Comment below and let’s discuss.

#RPGaDay, Day 21: Favourite RPG Setting

PZO9226_500Back in my AD&D playing days, I was a fan of both the Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms settings. Gun to my head I liked FR a little bit more, but they were two of my favourite settings. Eventually support for Greyhawk dwindled, resurging briefly when 3rd edition came out and then fading again. Forgotten Realms got the most attention from TSR and then WotC over the years, but that eventually meant there wasn’t a lot of the Realms that wasn’t covered in one book or another.

With 4th edition, WotC opted to reboot the Realms and push the timeline forward. But setting was never 4th edition’s strong-suit, and so it lost a lot of what made 4th edition fun and exciting while retaining Drizzt (that isn’t a slam against that character or those books, I quite liked them. But it was obvious it wasn’t preserved for any story or plot reasons). So 4th managed to sour me on the Forgotten Realms, which was okay because my favourite setting had already saved me.

Paizo’s Golarion is my favourite current setting for a few reasons. It combines the things I liked best about both Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms. Golarion has well-defined nation states with a rich history, much like Greyhawk. But like the Forgotten realms, there are still vast unexplored areas, rich for adventure and discovery. Even now, after several years and a plethora of sourcebooks, there is still more we don’t know about the setting than we know. Also, Paizo has done a great job of re-imagining many of the standard fantasy RPG monsters, like goblins, bugbears, and even flumphs, in such a way that they seem like brand new (and nastier) monsters. Yes, even the flumph.

But the setting also comes with a ready-made organization, the Pathfinder Society, which practically shoves characters into an adventuring life. Even if characters choose not to be members of the organization, the Pathfinders are always on the lookout for free-agents to take care of small investigations for them. And once you start working for the Pathfinders, you’ll likely run up against their enemy organization, the Aspis Consortium. One way or another, the Pathfinders are a perfect vector for danger and adventure in a Golarion campaign.

Also, Miss Feathers. I dare you not to love that NPC.

What’s your favourite setting? Comment below!

#RPGaDay, Day 20: Favourite Horror RPG

Call_of_Cthulhu_RPG_1st_ed_1981I mentioned in an earlier RPGaDay post that I’m currently diving deep in to Trail of Cthulhu. But before that I was head over heals for the Call of Cthulhu game, going all the way back to the first box set. I loved playing it almost as much as I enjoyed running it. The issue was finding people to play it with me. Growing up in Fort McMurray the player pool was already small, and the cross-section of that pool who also loved horror RPGs was not overflowing. Add to that the persistent issue that it is hard to run a long-lasting CoC campaign due to player mortality/insanity, and most folks, even the ones who loved the game, would often opt to play something else. I still managed to sneak in the occasional Halloween or Friday the 13th one-off, but the game mostly gathered dust on my shelf.

Another persistent issue with Call of Cthulhu, and why it isn’t sitting squarely atop my favourite list, was the investigative aspect of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love games where I have to puzzle things out, especially when the mechanics of the game support that. But CoC, like many games of the time, was a straight ahead dice roller: you have a stat represented as a percentile, you roll percentile dice to see if you succeed, and only if you succeed do you get anywhere. If you don’t succeed (because random dice are random) everything stalls, and either the players have to figure out some other more circuitous avenue or the game master has to just give them the clue. Neither solution is particularly satisfying.

Enter Trail of Cthulhu. As you would expect from a game which uses a system called GUMSHOE, 200px-TrailofCthulhucoverToC handles clues and clue-finding a little differently. It starts with the premise that, as the characters are investigators of one stripe or another, they will find clues. Finding clues, after all, is not the real important part. Understanding a clue, that’s where the metal hits the bone. So in ToC you will almost always find clues if you are looking for them, and if you as the player can figure out what they mean you’re golden. If you can’t, though, your character can then choose to spend points from an appropriate skill to determine what the clue means, or if there is any extra knowledge to be gleaned from a clue you already understand. The upside is, no more stalled investigations. Your players will always have a way forward, and if they spend their point pools wisely, may gain information which gives them an advantage.

And having solved that issue, Trail of Cthulhu bumps out Call of Cthulhu as my favourite. All of that delicious, madness-inducing Cthulhu Mythos, with a mechanic which lets the players get to the meat quicker? Yes, please!

What’s your favourite horror RPG? Comment and let’s discuss.

#RPGaDay, Day 19: Favourite Supers RPG

I have to admit, I haven’t played a Supers RPG in a very long time. I’ve picked up some of the more current ones to read, like Champions and Mutants & Masterminds, and I’ve enjoyed them. But without getting to play them I can’t really call them my favourites.

marvel rpgNo, my favourite is actually a tie between two much older Supers box-sets (ask V&V_2nd_edyour parents): TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, and Villains & Vigilantes from Fantasy Games Unlimited. I loved them both because they were easy to play, didn’t require a lot of fuss to get started, and were hours of fun. And we played them both in true, episodic comic book fashion, so there was no agonizing over campaign arcs or long-running plots. Often, we used them as a break in our more extensive D&D campaigns, just for a change of pace.

Why is it a tie? While each being equally fun to play, each also had something the other lacked. Marvel Super Heroes came with a metric buttload of pre-made heroes from the Marvel Universe, which made it easy to just pick-up and play. But making your own characters, while technically possible, was not the greatest. Once you started “making the sausage yourself” it became quite obvious that powers were not balanced between each other. As well, if you were an avid comic reader, there were few surprises since all of the published material was based on or featured Marvel comic villains and plots.

Conversely, Villains & Vigilantes had a comparatively robust character generation system, and indeed we would often spend whole evenings just generating superheroes (which came in handy later, given our character mortality rates). And because V&V wasn’t working off of any known comic book properties, we could be genuinely surprised by the villains. But there wasn’t as much support for V&V, so more often than not we played a hybrid of the two games using V&V characters and mechanics in Marvel Super Heroes adventures.

Both systems have since had reboots. Marvel Super Heroes was most recently published by Margaret Weis Productions, though no longer in print. And Villains & Vigilantes is now being published by Monkey House Games, run by the game’s creators, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman. Seems to be some legal wrangling going on over copyright, but it looks like it is mostly resolved at this point.

So what’s your favourite Supers RPG? Let’s discuss!

#RPGaDay, Day 18: Favourite SF RPG

It’s actually been a while since I’ve played an SF RPG, so I don’t know if I have a favourite. But I had a lot of fun with TSR’s Alternity system when it came out, back in the 20th century. It had a clever new mechanic and an interesting setting (later, settings) that made it fairly rules light and easy to play, while lending itself to whatever level of sci-fi you wanted on a scale of Space Opera to Hard SF. Before that was GURPS, which of course isn’t an SF RPG per se, but can of course become one. But for sheer flexibility in making whatever type of SF hero you want, GURPS wins.

An SF RPG I’m looking forward to is actually being Kickstarted right now. Monte Cook and the gang over at Monte Cook Games are running a campaign to fund Numenera: Into the Ninth World. Spoiler alert: it fully funded in an hour, so now we’re just ticking off the amazing stretch goals until the campaign closes. But if you love Numenera, there is nothing not to love about Numenera in space or dimension hopping. Heck, I’ve backed it and I haven’t even played regular Numenera yet (I know, I know).

And of course, if you want a sci-fi game you can start playing in minutes, track down a copy of Cosmic Patrol. You’ll recognize it as the Free RPG Day offering you foolishly ignored. But it’s really quick and easy to play, and a ton of fun.

So what’s your favourite SF RPG? Drop it in the comments below and let’s discuss.