PBM Thanks & Secret Rage

A while ago when I was mostly bedridden several of my friends would skype with me. It really helped to have some extra communication, and thankfully with a wireless headset it meant I could rest in bed. One of my long-time friends is Richie; he’s self-employed working from home, and has a young child, so he’s ludicrously busy, yet he still allocated time for me.

In addition to saying thank you to Richie for his support, I have tried to offer small gifts to show my appreciation. Richie and I first role-played together well over twenty years ago. Due to his busy life he’s not able to game regularly, so I thought a Play By Mail (PBM) game would do us both good, neatly sliding in to his hectic life schedule, at whatever pace he could manage. I wrote an introductory series to PBM here.

Roughly a year ago we discussed playing old White Wolf’s Aberrant game, since Richie’s a fan of comics, but he’d not played that setting yet. Aberrant has a rich Supers setting with mature themes, and lots of world changing powers to explore. Sadly this game never quite got going due to how busy Richie always is, and since I was still struggling with my health I didn’t push the subject. I have managed to offer a few other things as thanks, for example I made this small thing a while ago when he was ill:

BatJanoSandman

More recently I returned to the idea of offering a better present by running a PBM game. As we are both writers I considered proposing a classic style Dungeons & Dragons game emphasising the Hero’s Journey arc. Although this may feel a bit too cliché to many role-players, I think it is worth keeping in mind that there is so much you can do with good old D&D, there are so many settings and styles of gameplay. I also considered a Cthulhu game, given the single player nature of this game maybe doing something along the lines of Groundhog Cthulhu: Live, Go Insane, Die, Repeat. Or maybe going a bit over the top and running a GURPS Infinite Worlds game. I went through lists of other RPGs, even games that I’d not tried out yet. Eventually I settled on a game that I thought was the most likely to get Richie to bite, so I suggested the Gift of Werewolf.

We both adore Werewolf: The Apocalypse; well we adore all of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD). Despite how much we played Werewolf, we still want to play more, both feeling the genius game was overlooked by many gamers, and those who did take an interest in the World of Darkness games typically favoured Vampire. Over the years when I’ve been asked to pick to my favourite cWoD game I’ve always picked the World of Darkness as a cohesive whole, since that was how I always ran the setting. So my friend knows that when I suggested Werewolf, I really meant the cWoD with the primary focus being Werewolf.

After some chats I made a list of ideas for the Werewolf PBM for us to discuss further, and things quickly developed; typically I wanted to do something more and a bit different than my previous games. The initial premise was Richie playing a lone Garou, however, role-playing a lone Garou is a bit depressing; they are primarily pack animals after all. So I proposed a game spanning eons, we could use Past Lives to allow for story that covered such a time period, a chance to explore a powerful historical and social background of the Garou, and it could be about preventing the Apocalypse. The new White Wolf Publishing company are working on a new World of Darkness, one that roughly continues from the classic, without the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension ending. Whilst we are waiting for those products I considered this to be an intriguing idea.

Over the course of a few weeks I played about with the premise and kept coming back to wanting to do something more like my Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM campaigns. Meanwhile Richie wrote a cool short story, things were a go. I then had a more intriguing campaign idea, one that would take the Past Lives plan to an even bigger level, and take the game in a radically different direction. It didn’t involve abandoning what we’d initially set out to do, and Richie’s story would tie-in.

Next time I’ll go in to more detail about my Secret Rage.

You can check out some of Richie’s great designs at http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

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#RPGaDay 31

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 31st day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 31, #TrinityContinuum #Aberrant @TheOnyxPath & #Cryptomancer @Papa_Shell finally releasing my own #RPG work

I’m greatly anticipating the launch of Trinity Continuum by Onyx Path; previously old White Wolf’s Trinity Universe (Trinity (Æon), Aberrant, Adventure). I’ve mentioned Trinity in several of my answers for RPGaDay, I adore the setting, and I am confident this upcoming version will be a masterpiece.

I am quite intrigued to see what happens with Cryptomancer, especially as more people are getting involved. I’ll review the recent release of Code & Dagger volume 2 in September. Cryptomancer’s Chad is also writing for the recently funded Spire RPG, so that’s on my TODO list.

If multiple playtests and edits go well, then I’ll be publishing some connected RPG products next year; I have several near finished. I’ll not waffle about my own work, since if my players hate my projects, or more likely think they are weak, then I may have a lot of rethinking to do.

This month’s RPGaDay has certainly helped highlight several games I’d like to play. I plan on changing from my normal long campaigns, and running very short campaigns, plus maybe a few one-shots. My current TODO games list goes back years, I guess like many other role-players. Whether as a player, GM, or writer/designer, I always enjoy exploring other people’s work; besides fun it’s also research 😉

#RPGaDay 30

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 30th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 30, #RPG inspired by many systems, and my old job, a Mafia Time Extortion game.

Like many role-players, I have a collection of ideas that I’ve been adding to for years. It can be argued that so many genre-mashups have been done, that there is nothing left. I almost agree with that sentiment, particularly with so many systems and settings allowing for easy adaptation of anything.

  • Whether it’s GURPs in general, or the Banestorm setting in particular.
  • The wondrously detailed Heroes system.
  • Palladium’s Rifts, and the Megaverse in general.
  • Technically the World of Darkness has everything within its vast Tellurian.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has mentions of links to other realities, so there is nothing preventing mash-ups with that system.
  • Or other systems that work well as a launching platform such as Savage Worlds or Fate.

Keeping to the spirit of RPGaDay, and having fun with the question, I’ll get hung-up on whether my idea is silly, or already been done. I am sure people will mention all sorts of ideas that may actually in a few groups giving it a bash, so I am quite looking forward to scouring the Web for answers.

When I worked at KJC Games back in the 2000s, there a few ideas that Mica, my boss, and I discussed as potential for a commercial PBM RPG. Mica worked on some details for an interesting flashback vampire game. Since he knew I was a fan of supernatural myths and many game systems, in particular World of Darkness, he used me as an example of the target customer. Sadly that game never happened, too many other things to do. Years later I contemplated doing something with the idea, but decided against it since it was originally Mica’s, instead I got obsessed with coding software to support role-playing a time travel game.

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There are many games that touch on time travel, and of course GURPS explores the subject in quite some depth. In the 90s and early 00s I had run the Vampire Giovanni Chronicles with a few groups, and my main group had gotten up to book 4. The PCs start out as mortals in the 1920s working for the Mafia. The chronicle explores their lives being drawn in to the World of Darkness, eventually being Ghouls, and eventually embraced by Giovanni. My players, however, decided they were really happy playing a mortal Mafia game, since they were having such fun they even requested I delay any supernatural aspects indefinitely. Since I was still working on the time travel game ideas, I got the idea of doing a setting that was a mash-up of a Mafia Time Extortion game. Years later Looper was made, which is somewhat of a Mafia time travel story.

In 1999 I spent a year working on time travel ideas after meeting Martin and Damian of the original Suzerain team. After writing them a detailed essay about the game, I was invited to become more involved with the game, and so I became a freelance writer. I later helped with Suzerain’s GenCon UK launch, demonstrating games and helping to run the two LARP events that weekend. Suzerain was an interesting RPG, that reminded me of Quantum Leap. I’ll write about my Suzerain interest another time.

Although I’ve not playtested the designs I have for my Mafia Time Extortion game, I did adapt a few things for the Trinity Verse game I ran. What started out as a typical Aberrant campaign became about tracking down Max Mercer’s time travel. Typically for me the game got complicated, and required a database to track all the Novas, as well as Adventure and Trinity era NPCs. That game is on hold awaiting the release of the Trinity Continuum.

#RPGaDay 24

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 24th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 24, #RPG I have not read any PWYW, why is that? I’d have paid for fan made #Aberrant.

The moment I saw this question I struggled to think of reading a single ‘pay what you want’ (PWYW) RPG product. I was tempted to answer an alternate question, and I do love some of the alternate questions, but I considered the following: There seems to be a theme to the RPGaDay, also, upon closer inspection even some of the seemingly simple questions can be answered in great detail. So why haven’t I read any PWYW? I then pondered whether any PWYW have become ‘big’? I guess big would be anything that more than a few hundred people: like, use and ideally recommend to others.

I have downloaded a few PWYW. Each time I have planned to get around to reading them. Like most gamers I have an ever expanding backlog of RPG supplements, as well as blog/vlogs on my TODO list. The result being, the few PWYW products I have, have mostly been forgotten about.

I don’t believe I am biased against any of the PWYW products on some idea regarding quality. Despite the large amount of low quality professional RPG products I have seen over the years, I have seen plenty of brilliant fan-made free products. Aberrant was my first thought, since not only did I enjoy reading a whole lot of fan-made ideas, but the following fan free books became important parts of how I ran Aberrant, and then later the Trinity Verse:

  • Forceful Personalities
  • The New Flesh
  • A Breed Apart
  • Aberrant Nexus
  • India Underground: Psi Order Chitra Bhanu & Bharati Commonwealth Sourcebook
  • Trinity Field Report: Noetic Science
  • Trinity: Awaiting Inspiration

I would have happily paid money for those books. So I don’t have any issue with PWYW products, due to thinking that they are amateur products; I would also assume that some are quite high quality.

There are so many books for Dungeons & Dragons that it is easy to find just about everything. This includes adapting old things in new ones. For me the same applies with the old World of Darkness (oWoD). For a while I didn’t buy any of the Chronicles of Darkness, since I owned all of oWoD. Other factors came in to play: I had so many games on the go, I’d spent a fortune already, and I was running out of storage space so I stopped buying things until I planned on using them. This of course changed once buying PDFs become an option 😉

For years I’ve mostly ignored adventure modules. It’s not that I am against running modules; I don’t think I’d have the skillset I have today without having already read and ran so many modules. I guess this is the same for other gaming veterans. Add in how many full systems and settings have been released over the decades, and there is just too much out there.

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I came to the conclusion that a big part of today’s RPGaDay question is likely the point of passing around recommendations. Firstly to the RPG community itself, it is so easy to find opinions on the big games, but some of the people answering today will be highlighting why a PWYW product is worth checking out. Secondly, a chance for some authors to reconsider the value of their PWYW products, or maybe their next release.

There is a whole list of interesting psychological aspects to do with value, pricing, and time. I am avoiding turning this post in to a big breakdown of my opinions on psychology, so just a quick clarification of what I mean. When a product is free, many people will be inclined to think it is a lower quality, and thus more likely to ignore it; limited time is always a factor. After some people have paid nothing for a product, and eventually they read it, how many people will decide that they should make the effort to then give money to the creator(s)? Some people certainly do so, and technology has made this even easier, but people are busy, and it takes effort. We also have so many choices, and so many recommendations, we simply cannot look at everything.

Getting back to RPGs, I think today’s question is highlighting a complicated area of role-playing and the modern market: the value of RPG products.

#RPGaDay 23

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 23rd day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 23, #RPG, #GURPS

I was blown away when I was 11 and I first saw AD&D 1st Edition; it seemed even more impressive than the D&D boxsets. I had the same reaction a short time later when I looked through the Manual of the Planes 1st Ed. The pictures and text layout emphasised the goal of the book, an encyclopaedia of places and metaphysics to explore. For my formative years I have had similar reactions with the majority of RPGs I looked at: Cyberpunk, Warhammer, Vampire, Palladium, etc. I guess typically for my age, even a game with poor layout didn’t particularly bother me; I’d mine it for what I liked regardless.

This changed in the 90s when I finally took a lot at GURPS. I found the books to be jaw dropping, the sheer amount of information crammed in to them. Even the content pages are detailed and long. The layout style in GURPS is further enhanced by its usage of sidebars to layer even more information. I know from chatting with a few other people that the layout of GURPS added to their apprehension with the game, they felt the book was assaulting them with information. I appreciate their point, but for me it’s almost like having a book within a book.

GURPS layout

After I’d seen GURPS I did keep coming across works that impressed me, but I didn’t have the jaw dropping reaction. Even with games I adore: L5R, Changeling: The Dreaming or Aberrant.

As I gained professional experience with layouts, I was required to learn more about the power of layout. When I made the Quest: GM Edition rulebook, it was all about providing information without swamping the reader; I still have mixed opinions on that work, but at least I worked hard on it. Whilst, when my old boss converted the Beyond the Stellar Empire game to Phoenix, he settled on a layout similar to GURPS approach for the rules, which suited the nature of that in-depth game. We discussed different layouts for hours, as well as examining other peoples’ work, fun times.

These days I genuinely appreciate the craft of layout, and the time sink it can involve. I think I’ve finally figured out the layout for my massive role-playing guide, which for years I kept altering. I felt that most of the previous designs, gave the work the presentation like that of a waffling textbook. I feel I still need to learn a lot more, especially given how impressive RPGs can be these days.

There have been many great examples posted for today’s question. In particular Runeslinger’s answer introduced me to a very impressively designed book.

This video gives a good overview on the power of layout:

#RPGaDay 22

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 22nd day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 22, #RPG, simple answer #DnD #Cyberpunk #WoD, more at:

Today’s question is another one that is difficult for me to answer, due to how many different directions it invited me. Like many others, there are lots of games I love and find easy to run. Unlike the questions for day 8 and 9, this question cannot be answered with all systems. I recognise that even with a few systems that I love, I lack substantial game time running them. Thus it would be daft of me to claim that everything would be equally easy for me.

Please indulge me as I examine some different layers with today’s question. Part of the fun of RPGaDay is exploring a question from multiple perspectives, whilst keeping the positive spirit in mind.

My System Experience

I have many systems that I have run so much that I would be comfortable running them, as is, for long sessions, even without preparation. Such as: D&D, Storyteller (cWoD, Trinity, Street Fighter, et cetera), Cyberpunk, L5R, Witchcraft, Suzerain, or Reign. Maybe I could claim a few more systems, but I suspect there would be moments of mental uncertainty about their particular rules, and thus they wouldn’t be the easiest for me.

Player Knowledge

I appreciate that besides my own understanding of a game’s setting, there is also the consideration of each player’s knowledge, which can affect how a game flows. Obviously a new player is not guaranteed to disrupt anything, whether because they bring a lot of transferable skills/knowledge, or maybe the type of character they are playing means they don’t need to know much OOC.

Having run L5R sessions that included players that were new to that setting, they asked a lot more questions than when they had previously been introduced to the classic World of Darkness. This highlights how research is a factor in making things easier for everyone. I’ve also had players who were able to join in L5R without any issues; as always I try to keep in mind that each individual is an individual 😉

Investment and Mood

I think all the factors listed above, combine with each individual’s general mood, to determine how easy it is to run a game. I include myself in regards to mood, since I have experienced sessions when I lacked my normal enthusiasm.

I would prefer to try out a system I barely know with an enthusiastic group, than to struggle running a game I know really well with indifferent players.

Conclusion

Reflecting upon the many different games I have played, and forcing myself to pick one game, then my answer is Cyberpunk. I nearly choose the World of Darkness, since the design of that setting utilises the real world, with added supernatural layers that many people are familiar with. The reason I choose Cyberpunk is because even at 14 years of age, myself and my fellow players had enough movie and book references, so the setting made sense, helped by it being the near future. The brutal mechanics fitted the style of game, and despite loving the game, I really dislike the mechanics. Years later, I still find Cyberpunk easy to run.

I did ponder and write some other things, but I felt I was getting too indulgent. The wonder of exploring subjective opinions, as well as why we each have our own.

#RPGaDay 19

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 19th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG features the best writing?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 19, #RPG, for me #L5R, more shout-outs at:

Like many others answering this, I’ve decided to go overboard in regards to special shout-outs.

Shout-outs

In Nomine, Dogs in the Vineyard, Fading Suns, various GURPS sourcebooks, Exalted, Witchcraft, Cyberpunk’s Night City Sourcebook, Unknown Armies. Maybe even something like H.o.L. 😉

 ‘Old School’

As a kid I thought Manual of the Planes 1st ed. by Jeff Grubb was the greatest sourcebook.  Even to this day that series is still one of my favourite RPG supplements. The writing sets the ideas out well, providing enough metaphysics for the reader to make great games from. Besides his other work, Jeff joined Guild Wars to work on Nightfall and continued to work with ANet leading towards the splendour of Guild Wars 2.  Interestingly Jeff co-wrote the Ghosts of Ascalon, a Guild Wars 2 novel with another RPG standout, Matt Forbeck notable for working on Deadlands, amongst other work.

Educational

I really like the way Cryptomancer was written. A key design goal was to explain concepts like hacking, security and privacy concepts. I found Chad Walker’s explanations to be well explained.

Bronze

I love the writing and diversity of the classic World of Darkness games. From the simple rules, the numerous examples, the amount of short stories and in-character overviews in the various sourcebooks, to the totally in-character books like the Book of Nod or Fragile Path.  I have so many choices from this setting, and of special note Orpheus.

Silver

I really enjoyed reading Aberrant. The old Trinity Verse has some exquisite writing, but Aberrant really stands out to me. Besides liking the rules explanation, I particular loved the in-character pieces that made up the first 100 pages of the book. The whole product was superb.

Gold

L5R won out for me. The first book presented the massive amounts of cultural detail well. Whilst many other RPGs are great, I feel that L5R went that extra mile. I also found the rules to be quite clear, as I mentioned for Day 16.

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Also of note for L5R is the L5R City of Lies boxset, by Greg Stolze. I was part of Greg’s playtest for his game Reign, so I got to see different iterations of that game, and thus Greg’s writing. I find Greg’s work to be enjoyable and accessible, and he has quite a diverse range of games and fiction.

Sunglar’s blog has a great write-up, and I nearly made the same choice, I’ll not spoil it, and I recommend checking it out.

A good breakdown by Runeslinger at Casting Shadows.

Another RPG I’d considered is discussed by Nolinquisitor. A great explanation about why he made his choice: