RPGaDAY Thirteen and Fourteen

Describe a game experience that changed how you play?

What comes to mind is the first time I played the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Up to that point I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons, and other TSR games and their ilk. Games where we were very much the heroes, and as long as we didn’t get stupid we were going to win through to glory and treasure.

While we were heroes in Call of Cthulhu, almost none of the rest of what I knew up to that point applied. First, this was a realistic modernish setting, so the usual “murder-hobo” instincts were useless. Second, investigation trumped brute force. Sure, sometimes you needed to rough somebody up or engage in gun play. But just as often your characters were in libraries and museums, or searching weird locations for clues. And last, success was not only not guaranteed, but it was entirely possible you had failed well before the final encounter, you just didn’t know it yet. And none of that includes the possibility of debilitating madness.

So it was quite the mind shift for a young gamer. But once I understood how it worked, I loved it! When I eventually went back to playing D&D I brought some aspects of CoC with me, and that became my first experience with blending game systems as well.

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Currently I’m enjoying D&D 5th Ed as my open-ended RPG of choice. The system is comfortable to me, combining enough aspects of the various editions of the game that I have no problem taking my games in whatever direction I need to with little fuss. And as long as a player is familiar with some version of D&D it’s easy to get that person in to the game. We’ll be touching on it in a later post, but the game also allows me to stretch my creative wings again; I’ve done more world building this year than I have in the previous 3-5.

That said, if I need a more modern setting, then I turn to FATE. Very intuitive and player friendly, and a great way to build a modern campaign.

RPGaDAY Twelve

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Not an RPG, but I have always found the old Dragon Magazine cover art to be inspiring, both as a young gamer seeing it as it was published, and now as a collector finding copies of the older magazines. And I enjoy it in a way I don’t enjoy much of the cover art I see these days, with some notable exceptions. From a layout perspective, I loved that the magazine tried hard for so long to keep as little clutter off the cover as possible. For a good long while it was just the title in one corner, the number of the issue in the other, and then the almost unobstructed art.

And I may be alone in this, but it seems like the pieces were much more interesting because they weren’t necessarily being done as cover art. The artist had created something beautiful, and then it was used as a cover. Not to say that work-to-order can’t also be beautiful; there is very little of Wayne Reynold’s work, for instance, which doesn’t inspire me. But so much RPG art these days is “meh”, and so obviously put in because it fit the space and sort of fit the theme…

Look, I’m not an artist, so obviously I don’t know much about the whole process of creating a piece or getting it our to a publisher for use, or anything about that whole process. I do have experience with layout work, and so I certainly understand how important it can be to get things just the right size and fit for the page. But I do wish there were more artists stepping up with a bit more character to their work. I can tell at a glance if a piece is by Larry Elmore or Jim Holloway, for instance, but with only a few exceptions I can’t tell you who the artists are in most of my games.

RPGaDAY Eleven

Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?

This was a harder question to answer than I thought, because so many of the games I used to play which are now out of print are either, a) coming back into print thanks to crowdfunding, or b) such a product of their time, I’m not sure how popular they’d be today. In Nomine RPG is a good example of the latter. It was so much a product of the ’90s Christian Occult B-movie craze (think The Prophecy) that I don’t know how well it would fare today. Though with the popularity of Supernatural and Lucifer, maybe it would be okay.

But my answer has to be Sky Realms of Jorune. It was the first of the ‘science fantasy’ settings I ever played/GMed, and it had such a unique take on the concept of “adventuring”, something I hadn’t seen before or since. In Sky Realms, one of the main goals of your character was to be of as great a service to society as possible, and have that service recorded by others. That last bit was important, because the person in question, if they wanted to record your service officially, had to either travel to a central location and have your name and service inscribed for all to see, or they had to go through quite a bit of trouble to send word through a third-party. And it wasn’t enough just to save the day, you had to do so in such a way that you didn’t appear to be doing it just for the notoriety. So a lot more thought went in to what you did, why you did it, and what exactly motivated you as a hero. Compare that to the all-too-common “murder hobo” tendencies of many gaming groups, and it was no wonder players at the time found it challenging. But I think it could make a successful comeback in the current gaming market, with the continued rise of indie games.

RPGaDay Ten

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

I spend very little time hunting down reviews for role-playing games. Part of that is because I curate the feeds on things like Facebook and other social media to bring gamine news to me, so I rarely have to hunt. But if I’m honest, I’m not interested in reviews beyond a small circle sources. The only reviews I tend to pay attention to, outside of that circle, are the product reviews left by folks who have bought the game in question. I’m a gaming nerd, and I’m very interested in hearing what my fellow gaming nerds think about the games that have caught my eye.

And yes, if you’re a gaming company and you don’t have a way for customers to post their opinion of your game in your online spaces, I do judge you for that. Allowing customers a chance to give immediate feedback is probably the best way to show me the company has confidence in their material. Of course, as I say that I acknowledge that I am terrible for getting back around to write customer reviews for products I’ve purchased. It’s something I am determined to improve at, especially if I can do it on Amazon or some other place where it will positively impact the product’s sales/exposure.

RPGaDAY Nine

What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Assuming we’re playing every week, 10 sessions works out to 2-1/2 months, which I would consider a short campaign. For short campaigns I tend to steer away from D&D or Pathfinder, and I look at some of my underplayed RPGs. Shadowrun or In Nomine are good choices for me, because I find it easy to develop shorter story lines for these games. I also find that, since my groups are very much in to fantasy role-playing, these make for nice change-of-pace games; my players will enjoy them for the short campaign, but be ready to come back to their D&D campaign once it’s over.

And that’s really the main use for a shorter campaign for me, as a palette cleanser between chapters in my long-term campaigns. So that being said, the one that will work for you will largely depend on what you play regularly. If you’re in a long running modern or sci-fi game, a short dip into fantasy might be your best bet, for instance.

RPGaDAY Day Eight

What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

If we’re talking a one-off, as opposed to a campaign, then I turn to my collection of Free RPG Day offerings. The vast majority come with quick-play rules and a short scenario, which makes them perfect for when you don’t have time for a longer session. Most also come with pre-gen characters; for those that don’t, I try to make sure I have a few characters that can be dropped in and played with little fuss. My favourite in this case is Kobolds Ate My Baby!, because it is simple to play, tonnes of fun, and requires little to no prep.

But if you’re talking about a campaign, where you just don’t have longer than two hours per session, I’d suggest looking at the organized play material for games like Pathfinder, D&D 5E, Call of Cthulhu, and Numenera. If you’re playing one of those games, they each have organized play material which can be easily played in 1-2 hour chunks. Pathfinder, for instance, has Pathfinder Quests which are meant to be simple encounters which can be played in about an hour, and they’re free to download.

Even if you don’t play any of those games, looking at their organized play material is a great way to learn how to structure an encounter or series of encounters which can fit in a two hour session. Or make some changes to the material and make it work for the system you’re using. Most RPG encounters have a skeleton that will work for any RPG, you just have to flesh it out to fit your game.

RPGaDAY Five, Six, and Seven

Sorry for the catch-up post, but a long-weekend of rest was too much to resist. Of course that just gave me time to think about gaming, so let’s knock these questions out so I can get back to it.

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

So brand new that I haven’t even had a chance to really dig into it, Tales from the Loop from Modiphius Entertainment has cover art which perfectly captures the feel of the game. The setting is billed as “Roleplaying in the ’80s that never was”, and as someone who grew up at that time, oh how I wish it was! The interior art continues in the same vein as the cover, and evokes the feeling of being a kid at that time, when things were sort of weird and wonderful, and adults just didn’t get it. I have never looked forward to running a game for my friends more in my life, not the least because I get to pour over this gorgeous rulebook. If you’ve been looking to add some Stranger Things or Welcome to Nightvale to your tabletop, this game is for you.

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

(I’m going to take this as a Friday to Friday situation, because we’ll need the weekend to rest after.)

So, welcome to HouseCon™! It’s a role-playing convention, in my house! First, I reach out to my regular gaming groups, and I make sure to schedule each of them for at least one day of HouseCon™. Not saying we’ll play all day, but I would be remiss if I didn’t get them on the schedule first. Then I build things around them.

HouseCon™ comes but once a year, so I want to play all the “someday” games I keep talking about with my friends. That cool idea we had for a FATE one-off? Scheduled! A Fiasco survivor series, where we play through 4-6 Fiasco settings, then bring all the survivors together in a winner-takes-all final Fiasco scenario? Super scheduled! Everything is Dolphins? Scheduled, with a side of schedule sauce! A Tales from the Loop one-off, where we each play our best RPG version of our 12-year-old selves? Scheduled to the max, dude!

Also, I would schedule a daily Microscope game on the first six days, to develop a game world. On the seventh day we pick a rules system and we play in that setting, as sort of the closing ceremonies of HouseCon™.

HouseCon™ is not outside the realm of possibility. I don’t think I could manage a week-long version, but certainly a weekend once a year is not out of the question. It’s been on my “to do when the time is right” list for a while, so we’ll see.

HouseCon!™ It’s a con, in a house!

What was your most impactful RPG session?

The first thing that springs to mind is not one session, but a number of sessions I ran while I was working/volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club in my old home town. Most of the time when kids dropped by after school, we’d get them up and playing some sort of sport, like basketball or floor hockey. But there were always a handful who really weren’t into that, and so they’d be off on the side reading or doing homework. And that’s cool, but I figured we should try to offer something special for them to try out. So I got permission to run D&D for them. It ran for about 5-6 months, three days a week after school, 2-3 hour sessions.

And it was a blast! One of the great joys of GMing for me is introducing folks to the game, because new players aren’t weighed down with expectations about how things are supposed to work. New players, once you convince them it’s okay, want to do all the exciting stuff they’ve read in books or seen in movies. And as the GM, you get to let them! Watching these kids get excited about the game, and then also start to learn from it, to see them drawing on their experience in the game and applying it to their lives…that feeling is rare and indescribable. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend it.

That’s all, see you tomorrow!

RPGaDAY Day Four

What RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition tops my play list over the last year, though if my regular weekly group hadn’t been plagued with attendance issues Pathfinder would have easily tied with it. But as I’ve mentioned a few times before, and posted here on the blog, I’ve enjoyed getting back into a D&D edition with very little setting baggage. While they’ve since released setting information for the Forgotten Realms, along with several adventure paths set in the Realms, there still isn’t the weight of setting information that Pathfinder carries. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Golarion setting. It surpassed the Forgotten Realms as my favourite published campaign world, and I don’t see that changing. But there is just so much setting information available, it can be hard to find a way to put my mark on the setting as a GM.

Besides scheduling issues, one of the reasons D&D 5E has been at the top of my playlist is the setting I created for my two ongoing campaigns. I’ve loved having my own campaign world again, something I can develop along with my players as they explore. And with a lighter, leaner rules system I feel more freedom to really make the world fantastic, without worrying that I’m breaking some rule system in the game.

None of which is to say D&D 5E is a perfect game, not by any means. But it’s the closest I’ve come to the feelings I had when I first started playing back in 1980, and that’s no bad thing.

RPGaDAY Day Three

How do you find out about new RPGs?

Like most nerds in the current age, I spend a possibly unhealthy amount of time on the internet. I want to spend the maximum amount of time looking at cool stuff, so I subscribe to a number of game company newsletters so the new releases come to me without me having to search. I also subscribe to newsletters from DriveThruRPG and Noble Knight Games. The first, because they often feature material from smaller games I might otherwise miss, and the latter to stay on top of items I might want in my collection.

Kickstarter has also become invaluable for finding new RPGs, before they’re even at the publishing stage. Kickstarter is also a great place to fund reprints of some classic games. Top Secret just finished a successful relaunch through Kickstarter, and I look forward to seeing that material freshened up.

RPGaDAY One and Two

And suddenly it was August! It has been a while, hasn’t it? My apologies, I was both ill and organizing a festival, and that ate my time like nobody’s business. But both those things are pretty much over, and August brings us to another year of #RPGaDAY. So you’re going to get sick of me real soon; let’s begin!

 

Day One: What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

The first RPG that comes to mind is In Nomine, because I have fond memories of that game from the ’90s. I’d love to get a group together and play some angel/demon fun-times, even as just a one-off, though I think the game really shines if you can get a campaign going. The mechanics are suitably interesting, and simple enough that they get out of the way of the story. And if you were of a certain age and grew up watching the spate of “Christian occult” films of the ’90s, you know exactly what the look and feel of the campaign should be. If you missed those movies, then I recommend tracking down The Prophecy, starring Eric Stoltz and Christopher Walken. Not only will it help break you of any lingering ideas about angelic cherubs, but it will give you an idea of possible plots for a campaign, and show you the many different attitudes angels and supernatural beings have toward humans.

Day Two: What is an RPG you would like to see published?

This one is tough to answer, because we’re not exactly starved for choice when it comes to RPGs these days. The rise of DriveThruRPG has meant that anyone who wants to get their niche RPG on the market can do so, and so we’ve seen any number of specifically-themed RPGs in the public eye. If I had to pick one era that I think hasn’t gotten any RPG love (and I could be wrong, there might be a game and I haven’t seen it yet) it would be the fur-trading period here in Canada. The whole history of the fur trade, the Hudson’s Bay Company versus the North West Company, and the opening up of Western Canada to European trade is a period ripe for a role-playing game. It could cover some serious subjects as well, about the treatment of indigenous populations and Colonialism. And even here in Canada I think it is a little understood period of our history.

Okay, I’m back in the saddle so I’ll see you tomorrow for Day Three!