#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.

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#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:

#RPGaDay 16

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 16th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 16 #RPG #L5R #DnD #Palladium, overall #L5R

I know plenty of gamers that love any chance to talk about system design in general and/or their favourite systems. I find system purity to be a fascinating area, especially when playing ‘obviously flawed games’ as is. Despite the fact I love tweaking things, I’ve still run several systems as is, and still had fun! I am a fan of multiple systems, and how each one can subtly influence the mind-set of everyone involved. I am also a big believer in utilising an RPG mental tool-kit, which is why it is rare for me not to adapt things. I don’t believe there is a perfect RPG system, since there are too many people with too many different preferences, and this is partly why we have some many different and interesting systems to draw from.

I have run a lot of D&D as is, in part because of playing with numerous players, whether at convention, local clubs, or small groups. The same applies to a few games of Stars Wars D20 that I ran. Given the diverse player base, I was advised at my school’s RPG club, to carefully consider any rules tweaks, so as to not confuse other players, never mind avoid debates. Given that we generally had short sessions, this advice made sense; I think is also part of the reason why at conventions I’ve run games as is.

I respect that this is a passionate subject for so many gamers. We have all sorts of psychological reasons why this can be a sensitive subject, whether it is because:

  • We generally like to know where we stand.
  • Past experiences of debates about rules, possibly involving teasing, maybe even bullying.
  • Since we have spent time learning something, to then find a GM has changed things.
  • As well as subtle impressions, like the issue of buying something and feeling our financially investment is being devalued by someone changing things.
  • The nagging concern that there may be other changes, which links back to liking to know where we stand.
  • Added to this are the numerous debates that I am sure most gamers have come across, and in particular some of the online RPG flame wars.
  • Etc.

Decades ago, my take away from reading many angry posts was to strive to become both better at explaining my main point, it’s all to ease to get side-tracked. More importantly was for me to become less opinionated, especially with strangers. This is partly due to running a community whilst working at KJC Games, GMing Quest, as well as assistant GM for Phoenix (then Beyond the Stellar Empire). As an assistant GM I never felt like I had any real say other things, I was told that I did, just to think carefully, but still I never shock that feeling off, so running that game was good practice at keeping to the main GM’s style and goals. Given the fact I had no training about company PR, and there were a lot of problems converting a PBM non-RPG in to a moderated RPG, I think I mostly handled things well, but I definitely still made many mistakes.

Like any aspect of psychology, I strive to always remind myself that each of us is an individual, and to communicate not assume. This is why I discuss my approach to RP, and any house rules, with any group I play with; although unlike when I was younger, these days I try not to be a floodgate of enthusiasm about it 😉

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Since Legend of the 5 Rings was released, I have run my main campaign as is. I am not trying to imply the rules are perfect, but the rules have worked well for my various groups. In part because I think rules fit the game’s setting; the game reminds me of D&D crossed with a Storyteller game, with the inevitable aspect of Warhammer‘s Chaos and Cthulhu Mythos.

I almost choose Aberrant, but I minutely adapted that game due to the ping-damage issue, that meant for me L5R was a better answer. Given that the design of Aberrant was about outrageous power and corruption, the rules kind of thematically worked 😉 For previous RPGaDay answer I have written about how I am really looking forward to Trinity Continuum. I originally wrote a lot about my hopes for the setting, but I decided that my Mega-Enthusiasm 3 was a bit too much of a tangent.

Other games I’ve run as is includes Palladium, in particular Mystic China. I’d recommend checking out Runeslinger’s blog and video about this infamous system.

#RPGaDay 12

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 12th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 12 #RPG, #Aberrant #Trinity #Adventure due to the wonderful IC pages.

I had so many initial thoughts about this question, and sadly despite the list of honourable shout-outs I have provided, I know I am missing off to many noteworthy games. Many old games came to mind, in part because they had been part of my formative RPing years. Whether staring at the old Monster Manuals for AD&D 1st ed over and over again, or the Warhammer artwork emphasising the dark setting. When I started playing Cyberpunk, the artwork helped to differentiate itself from the fantasy games I had previously played; a game with both style and substance 😉

Cyberpunk Interior artI considered Tales from the Loop, which was built upon a wonderful collection of art. This is also a great example of how modern RPGs can have amazing artwork, and how we can keep being surprised.

L5R is one of my favourite games, in part due to its incredible artwork; I tend to buy all the books for a game I like, but at least that means more artwork. Given the game’s emphasis on culture, and how important appearance is in that setting, with so many pieces of art showing character interaction and attire, it was quite easy to show players an example to help inspire them.

I nearly choose Changeling: The Dreaming, I adore that game; I wrote about one of my Changeling campaigns for Day 7. I shouldn’t really single out any of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD) games, as a whole the interior art was diverse and gripping; the walls of my old flats were covered in mostly WoD artwork. The artwork for Wraith really helped to inspire that game’s setting and mood, although I know a few players that were too disturbed by that game to even try it. Changeling’s lovely artwork helped to make that game stand out, and with the diverse races (kith) the pictures felt like a nod at the older games like D&D, whilst being noticeable different to them.

Changeling Interior ArtA special shout-out to Palladium’s: Ninjas & Superspies and Mystic China; whilst I am it, also for Nightbane. Like so many of Palladium books, there is a good mix of artwork. In a hobby dominated by fantasy, then Sci Fi, and then probably Supers, I really appreciated any martial arts artwork.

Although Street Fighter is a big IP, and thus it’s a bit unfair to compare it to non-major-IP games, as I mentioned on Day 5, the artwork was very inspiring. Overall the artwork was vibrant and fitted the style of the game. I’ll admit that anything martial arts related gets a bonus from me, but I really love that game for taking a beat’em up and turning in to something special.

As mentioned above, I finally settled on the books for the Trinity Universe, and in particular Aberrant. Having so many In Character (IC) pages really helped to get the setting across. They were easy to show new players, especially the pages that were comics. Thus the interior art was more than just artwork, they were IC game props. Although the old White Wolf company had done this sort of thing before with the cWoD books, it was taken to a new level with books for the Trinity Universe. Between the timeline, the IC news articles, interviews, wrestling shows, and profiles, the whole collection was both inspiring and highly informative.

Aberrant Interior ArtAs I mentioned yesterday, Onyx Path Publishing are working on rebooting this setting as the Trinity Continuum. Clearly with such a rich heritage to build upon, and the great work and experience of Onyx, Trinity Continuum is obviously going to be amazing. I’d only be surprised if the game was less than stunning to look at. Check out the Trinity Continuum pages.