#RPGaDay 15

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 15th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

 Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 15 #RPG WoD just a few tweaks. Plus as a toolkit #GURPS #Cryptomancer

I am going to separate my answer in to two:

1) The setting I have enjoyed adapting the most is the classic World of Darkness, after just a few tweaks I was very happy with the game. Once Werewolf came out, and the WoD had two games, I always ran my games as a cohesive world, not as separate games. Those that know the games appreciate that they were not designed with any idea of balancing a mixed party; I ran a few games with a mixed party, so I know they can work. I am referring to the complicated supernatural web that envelopes the WoD, the different factions pulling at strands. I’ll blog about this more another time.

2) Since 2000 the game I’ve drawn from the most is GURPS, it has greatly helped me with other games. The books are a wonderful source of information, and I’ll go as far claiming they are the ultimate RPG toolkit; overstatement aside, GURPS is brilliant.

Following on from GURPS, this year I’ve really taken a shine to Cryptomancer. I think the game has added something missing in the RPG hobby, and it was written with system hacking in mind; I wrote a review. I have already been using it, and I have plans to incorporate it further in other games. So whilst I have not used it as much as GURPS yet, I suspect over the next few years I certainly will.

I have enjoyed adapting every game, even the few I am not keen on. As I mentioned for Day 14, I think it is great to expand our mental RPG tool belt.

#RPGaDay 06

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 6th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

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

My answer is: #RPGaDay 6, discuss with my group: 1) run the week like a convention, or 2) see link

As always whatever I run would be discussed with my group. Since we’ve gamed together for decades I guess the vote would either be:

  1. Running the week like a tabletop convention. I’d have a choice of different games that the players could then vote on what games to fill those slots. Ideal for mixing things up, enabling players to return to old campaigns, start something new and also a chance to try out the latest RPGs.
  2. I am currently playtesting my own game (Elemental Masters (rubbish working title)). I feel it would be best to take breaks from this so I could take on board any feedback, and then tweak designs as necessary. The other 50% of the time I’d go with my answer for day 1 of returning to a long running L5R campaign, but adding in Cryptomancer shards for: “Shadow in the Shardnet”.
  3. Run a multitude of different settings using GURPS. Maybe on the final day the different settings are all linked up.

RPG Reality

I currently only have one group, and we are all too busy. Sadly we wouldn’t have a week we could put aside, and even if we did I would still want to focus on writing and design. Still I appreciated the dream time that the question instigated.

Quick Nostalgia

Like many gamers in their youth, I gamed as much as I could. During the summer holiday of 1990 I played Cyberpunk 2020 practically every day during 10+ hour sessions, for most of the 6 week summer holiday. I had been playing a lot of D&D before then, and World of Darkness once it was released.

Some years later I had less time to due to work, but for a while I did play in many different groups and ran several groups.  So I was gaming 5 days out of 7, mostly classic World of Darkness, but also some Street Fighter, Palladium (Ninja and Superspies) and D&D.

By 2000 when I was working at KJC Games I didn’t get to game as much. I was not gaming in as many groups. I started going to gaming conventions, as well as helping a bit with the local convention TowerCon. I stopped going to tabletop conventions since I returned to playing LARP. More recently I’ve mostly been finalising years of designs.

https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/street-fighter-rpg-look-back/ and other links to old articles can be read via my RPG post summary page https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/role-playing-game-links/

#RPGaDay 05

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 5th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

There are so many amazing game covers I contemplated picking, I’ve listed ones I nearly choose below. Since this question has no correct answer, choosing one was quite difficult. I went with:

#RPGaDay 5 Usagi Yojimbo, also the only game I’ve bought simply due to the cover.

Batjutsu RPG IP Covers

Since any RPG using existing intellectual property (IP) brings with it a lot of sentiment, be it: Star Wars, Trek, D.C, Marvel, Middle Earth, Babylon 5, Street Fighter, etc., could be thought of as having a bonus to any dice roll to help capture what the spirit of a game would be; I’d go as far as claiming that it’s an automatic success. This is why I think it puts any RPG cover for such an IP in to a special category. This is not to diminish some of the amazing front covers for any RPG using a big IP setting; I’m just saying that for me I already have an opinion of what the spirit is.

I had no idea what Usagi Yojimbo was when I bought it, so I am ignoring the fact the game used an existing IP; also it’s clearly not as famous as the IPs mentioned above 😉 I vaguely recall thinking it might be a bit like TMNT, but it looked less zany, more serious. Also my first introduction to Greg Stolze, whose varied great work I’ve enjoyed many times over the years.

I almost choose the stunning artwork used for Tales from the Loop. So many are saying it really captures the spirit of the game, but I have not played it yet so I thought in inappropriate to pick. Whilst the game is partly inspired by Stranger Things, but it does not use the title, so I think it is fair to not treat like the big IPs like Star Wars.

Tales from the Loop

Minimalist Front Cover Shout-Outs

It’s hard make a front cover whilst keeping details to a minimum. It makes sense to make epic fantasy/sci-fi pictures for an RPG, since the fan base is usually the sort of people that will plaster their walls with pictures of dragons and spaceships. So it is understandable that the majority of RPGs use an epic scene for their front cover, especially given how important drama is for any RPG.

Two games that deviate from this norm, that I also think use the front cover to capture the spirit of their game are:

  • Traveller’s text on a black background somehow works; maybe because it is a gripping short story, atop the black which represents deep space and vulnerability?
  • Code and Dagger (Cryptomancer) does a great job of encapsulating that game.

CodeDagger

Other Shout-Outs

There are so many other front covers that I nearly choose: Cyberpunk 2020, Warhammer 1st Ed, Shadowrun, L5R, Deadlands. Of special note to me is Aberrant, there is a lot going on in the picture that captures the drama of the setting, without it being too busy.

Batjutsu RPG covers

aberrant

Like many others I have spent too much time on pinterest if you’d like to look at more RPG artwork: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/batjutsu/

#RPGaDay 04

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first.

For the 4th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

My tweet is: “#RPGaDay 4 Playtesting my own epic monstrosity, I added in #Cryptomancer shards #RPG.” I’ll not write about what I am up to here, if the playtests keep going well then I’ll write about things later.

Due to health reasons I’ve not done as much gaming as I’d like, but I plan on somewhat making up for that by the end of the year.

#RPGaDay 01

Chatting with role-players online and researching is something I quite enjoy, although like most people I do worry about the time sink factor. Yet despite that I’ve decided to take part in #RPGaDay, which was started four years ago by Dave Chapman:

A few years ago I felt there was a negative undercurrent in our hobby. Sorry to say that, but I felt it was there, and inspired by one of those “aDay” things for bibliophiles I thought that I could try to get the world talking about tabletop RPGs in a positive and encouraging way.

Besides the fact it is something I find really interesting, I debated with myself about the time factor. I have so much going on currently, plus my health/energy management to consider, but I finally convinced myself using the following key arguments:

  1. It will be more good writing practice, since RP is my primary passion. I will want to write a lot, but also not just waffle.
  2. Given the number of tweets, I am likely to come across interesting points.
  3. A few friends have recommended that I blog more.

Since leaving KJC Games I have too many unfinished projects. Of course I have run a lot of other peoples’ games, but until recently not my own. I imagine a few friends will remind me of previous conversations: “Finish your RPG Guide, and stop procrastinating by doing another decade’s worth of research.” Although I’ve not double checked with them, I think they will be happy that I am using this month as extra motivation. I believe it will provide me many chances to re-examine ideas from a fresh perspective; due to lots of editing I am somewhat sick of reading my own stuff.

The following is the list of questions for this year:

#RPGaDay

My answer to the question for day 1: What published RPG would you like to be playing right now?

Anyone who has read my recent blog posts on Cryptomancer won’t be too surprised by my answer involving that lovely game. Although I’ve not blogged about Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R) yet, it is one of my favourite RPGs; I’m one of those people that has 10 favourite RPGS, 10 favourite bands, etc. I’ve been running the same L5R campaign since the game came out, so my group and I have a lot invested in the game; one player has the same character he started back in 1997. As my campaign has ‘featured’ the Shadow a lot, and secret organisations, I think Cryptomancy would fit right in; I’ll expand on this idea another time.

I nearly choose Tales From The Loop, as I am quite intrigued by that. I love the book Roadside Picnic, the Stalker computer games, and of course Stranger Things. A friend backed the Kickstarter, and loves the finished product. There are so many other games I’d like to be playing: Numenera, FATE, WoD, Aberrant, plus many more to get in to; we are living in an RPG rich age.

Although I have written a lot about this today, I am not planning on writing so much for each of my answers. I likely will, but this will be another chance to practice: if I had more time I’d have written less.

If you are interested in #RPGaDay, and you’d like to know more, then check out Dave Chapman. Also of note is Brigade Con, as Dave mentions on his page, they have been helping to run #RPGaDay, also check out Casting Shadows blog. There is also a webpage https://rpgaday.com/ providing a feed of the numerous tweets.

Review Code & Dagger

Recently I reviewed Cryptomancer, and I’d recommend reading that first if you are not familiar with this great game.

This supplement adds a lot more detail to the world of Cryptomancer, as well as providing more great add-ons for use with other settings. I have had several ideas for ways to add Cryptomancy to D&D or Warhammer games, as well as the steamjack heavy setting of Iron Kingdoms. Code & Dagger is free to anyone that has purchased Cryptomancer, what a bargain!

I think the front cover nicely encapsulates the title: Code & Dagger.  Sadly there is no extra artwork inside, but this is free book so that is understandable. The layout used in this supplement continues the approach used in the main Cryptomancer sourcebook; I am sure any programmer will appreciate this consistency.

Crypto-gear Prosthesis

The rules for crypto-gear provide an interesting way of adding cybernetics to any fantasy game. Of course this being Cryptomancer means the idea doesn’t end there, the implications of hacking crypto-gear are presented. In real life the issue of biotech and security is a big one, so the inclusion of these ideas into Cryptomancer is brilliant.

This addition also further emphasises Cryptomancer’s cyberpunk theme for me. Not simply because a virtual network and metal arms are common tropes in the cyberpunk genre, but also because the explanation of crypto-gear highlights their rarity. This means it is likely that the player characters (PC) are going to be indebted to a powerful organisation, which gives them literal power over a PC’s body, a situation that has been the root idea of many cyberpunk stories.

The inclusion of a crypto-gear summary table is a great help regarding rules and description. Shopping lists are typically fan favourites.

Hacks and Exploits

This section provides more detailed information about implications of Cryptomancy, such as Proof of Life which further explores the issue of what happens to echoes on the Shardscape that had been encrypted using a true name. The section goes on to introduce other fun things: Goblin Switches, Message Drones and Mail Bombs, Shadow Terror, Credit Shards and the EchoChain Ledger, Teller Gears, and Cryptovault Hardening. The section also includes three new spells: Kill Arc, Kill Zone, and Shard Balm. I found all of these ideas to be useful, expanding the setting and providing adventure seeds.

Cryptomancer Shards

Threat Intel

There are two new tough threats introduced in this section: Vampires and Juggernauts.

Given how many different versions of vampires there are across the multitude of myths, the word Vampire is not exactly informative. This type is a bit similar to Nosferatu, but it has the wonderful ability to steal a victim’s soul key. This intriguing power means that a victim will effectively have had their identity stolen. This will not only lead to great in game drama, but also ties in with Cryptomancer’s aim of teaching cyber security to the players. The means of tracking a vampire is also given a real life emphasis, being more like hunting a cybercriminal, thus in game auditing of bank accounts and EchoChain transactions are likely the best approach.

Juggernauts are enormous orcs who have been enhanced with crypto-gear, making them more like a cyberpsycho, Ork Warboss (40K), or even a Terminator. With such a dangerous opponent, direct fighting is generally too big a risk, but this game provides interesting ways to tackle such a creature.

Endgame

A few reviews highlighted how the player was not keen on the idea of the Risk Eaters being unassailable and inevitable. The section introduces factions, so the party are not alone in their fight. Whilst the mechanics of gaining risk have not been altered, this social change has massive ramifications in regards to survival, and maybe even victory. I’m not going to summarise any of the factions listed, in case a player is reading this, so they can discover the information in game. Given the multitude of fictional or real life examples of politics, spies, and secret organisations, there is nothing stopping a games master from further complicating the conspiratorial web.

Given that this supplement included the potential for vast networks ruled by vampires, I started envisioning networks on the scale of Vampire: The Masquerade, with regards to the Camarilla, the Sabbat competing with each other, whilst the Inconnu and Tal’Mahe’Ra (True Black Hand) remain in the shadows.

It Still Comes

The supplement ends with a short story. I’ll not spoil it, but summarise that the tale foreshadows the coming of a titanic enemy, with possible genocidal plans!

Summary

I highly recommend checking out this supplement, as it’s a collection of great ideas that are well presented and include ideas on how to utilise them; I’d have happily paid money for it. To quote the end of my Cryptomancer review:

Additionally there is a free expansion book: Code & Dagger, and with Code & Dagger Vol. 2 on the way, this game’s value keeps increasing.

Code & Dagger Volume 2 is set for release August 2017. I’ll hopefully review Vol 2. in a few weeks.

Cryptomancer – RPG Review

Do RPG mechanics sometimes get in the way of game flow, or even box-in peoples’ creativity? I’ve come across this line of questions on many occasions. The typical debate comes down to agreeing that rules abstraction is required, which I don’t fully agree with. Just look at how most games leave character psychology to the players with no rules needed to track character mood or stress. For example, I am not a fan of the cyberspace/hacking design used in many RPGs. I’ve been working on a game for years in which I am using computer language structure as a part of my vast magic system, so I decided to do a search on RPG + hacking, to see if anyone had recently made some interesting mechanics. I was pleased to quickly find something new: Cryptomancer.

“A tabletop role-playing game made for hackers, by hackers.”

After a few minutes of reading about Cryptomancer I genuinely paused to absorb what I considered to be a genius approach to handling hacking in an RPG; to focus on the reality of hacking, not to reduce the idea down to a few simple dice rolls, or worse. Within moments I had a multitude of ideas racing through my mind, plus the bonus that old designs were being influenced.

I quickly contacted various friends to discuss the game, and to find out whether they knew anything else about it. Whilst waiting for replies I read a review, checked out some Reddit posts, and then decided to buy the PDF.

The PDF is a whopping 430 detailed filled pages, so it is very great value at $10. The layout fits the theme of the game, as does the artwork, which I think helps to drive the theme home by keeping drawings stark, and utilises grey-scale to help with the mood. The same art style is used throughout, helping with the book’s consistency.

I love the front cover, besides it being beautiful, it really helps to highlight one of the special things about this game: Shards. Shards allow a user to connect to other shards that originate from the same original larger shard, this collection forms a Shardnet:

“a private network where each mortal holding one of these shards can communicate with each other silently and instantly, regardless of the distance between them.”

There is also a vast network called the Shardscape, which is akin to the Internet. I think these concepts are well explained, and are novice friendly. All throughout the book more details are continuously added, allowing a reader to build-up layers of understanding about how the Shards influence everything, from a few individuals interacting to the international scale.

Cryptomancer Shards

The game does not use an encryption skill, or a Shard skill. Some people may be concerned that this would affect game flow, or be too confusing for new players, but the book introduces the shard concepts carefully, with some great examples about different types of encryption. I think this is a wonderful example of proving that RPG mechanics are not always needed. Just present ideas for players and let them explore them.

System & Setting

These days there are so many different RPG systems and settings that I’d be quite surprised if a game could be called unique, but I do believe that there are still ways to stand out, and niches to explore. Cryptomancer’s focus on data security, encryption, social engineering, along with some different spells and items, brings this game close to being called unique. Interestingly the game setting is introduced as Tolkienesque:

“Cryptomancer takes place in a fantasy setting very similar to most fantasy settings you are accustomed to. This was by design. We kept things simple so gamers both seasoned and new can jump right in and start hacking things. We have made some subtle tweaks to fantasy norms, based on what we think fantasy races would look like in a connected fantasy world.”

I think this was a good design decision. For people that don’t play RPGs, they are likely to have heard of Tolkien’s work, and maybe even Dungeons & Dragons. Given how much new information the game presents, reducing the products overall learning curve makes sense. I think this decision also adds another benefit, allowing experienced gamers to understand how this approach to hacking fits in settings they are familiar with. The setting is not a direct copy of Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms, and the differences are due to the shift in the Elf, Dwarf, and Human cultures in response to Shards and the magic of Cryptomancy. Thus there is something new, even if the foundation is familiar.

“Kill all the Orcs, Hack all the Things”

I adore R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG, despite the brutal skill system. The cyberpunk genre in general has dominated a big chunk of my life. I also like Shadowrun; I’m not one of those people that cannot like both. Some of the games of Mage: the Ascension I’ve ran have had the player characters (PCs) being members of the Technocracy, including some fun sessions of just playing Hit Marks. I was asked by one player whether Cryptomancer’s Internet-like Shardscape is just the Matrix/Cyberspace with a twist? I explained that both in setting, but crucially mechanically, Cryptomancer is doing things quite differently, that it is about the players learning how to exploit systems, and how to protect their own. So although Shadowrun already exists, with its fantasy races and cyberpunk themes, that Cryptomancer’s differences translate to changing how a player approaches the game, as well as them possibly learning something new.

The book highlights the idea of adding the Shards and Cryptomancy to other settings, which is the main reason I was interested in the book. I did read the setting information, because I felt it would help my understanding of the ramifications of Shards and Cryptomancy, and from this I could determine how best to implement the ideas in to my own setting. I also liked what I read of the setting, and I am planning on running some sessions in the game’s setting.

Cryptomancer Golem

Risk & Mechanics

The game is focused on the PCs being on the run from the settings main adversaries, the Risk Eaters. These powerful mages monitor the world using Dwarven decisions engines to predict dangers to the world, and in particular to the social systems in place, so they can dispatch agents to deal with problems before they get out of hand. The party has a Risk rating, which goes up as the party do things that affect the world, especially if the PCs are not careful in covering their tracks. Whilst the Risk Eaters are an inevitable enemy, with a combination of luck and care a party could keep the threat at bay for a long-time.

At this point I think I should mention the system mechanics, I’m only introducing skill checks since they tie in to the Risk rating, a percentage score. In Cryptomancer any skill check always uses a pool of 5 dice. When a character makes a skill check, their skill rating is used as the basis of the dice pool, adding a d10 for each skill point. If they have less than 5, then they add the remaining dice with d6s to take the dice pool to 5; the d6s are known as Fate Dice.

For example: a character making an Acrobatics check has an Agility of 5, then they roll 5d10, but if their Agility was 3, then roll would be 3d10+2d6.

For a trivial action the target on the dice is 4+, for challenging a 6+ and a tough check is an 8+. Add up each dice that successfully hits the target, but deduct a success for any botch. A botch on a d10 is a roll of 1, and on a d6 (fate dice) any roll of a 1 or a 2; fate is dangerous to rely upon!

For example: continuing on from the Agility of 3 with a challenging target of 6, the player rolls 3d10+2d6. For this example the dice result is d10(6, 1, 3) + d6(2, 6), meaning d10(successes of 1, -1, 0) + d6(-1, 1) for a total of 0 successes.

With 1 success an action is successful, whilst 3 successes means it is a dramatic success. Likewise if the pool total is -1 then it is a clear failure, whilst -2 means a dramatic failure. A player can choose to Defy Fate, which will raise the party’s Risk rating by 1 for each botch removed from a dice result, so a buying off a result of -2 will raise the Risk rating by 2. I particularly like this part of the system, and how it all fits together. I think it does several interconnected things:

  1. Keeps things simple, which is particularly good for inexperienced players
  2. I’ve met many veteran gamers who dislike having large dice pools.
  3. It results in an interesting bell curve. I am not keen on systems that have no bell curve due to rolling a single dice, ‘they have unnatural fate’. I’ll expand on this semi-joke, but important point, another time 😉 I do play and enjoy D20, Cyberpunk, etc., it’s just I prefer using several dice since they give reliable averages.
  4. Players have a choice, often they are about deciding between short-term vs long-term issues. There are other games that use fate systems like Warhammer, or Deadlands chit system, etc. This system’s Fate linked to Risk is like a Doomsday Clock.
  5. The mechanics help to keep the game’s theme, the gravitas of long-term risk to the party, which just builds, and builds. Our world has become increasingly obsessed with risk over the last few decades, now more than ever, people strive to manage risk, which is an understandable thing, but when obsessed over …

Hacking systems is a common part of RPGs, so there is nothing stopping a group from tweaking the Risk Eaters from being a bit like Cthulhu crossed with 1984, to a lesser threat. Be careful to avoid turning the Risk Eaters from a Cthulhu like threat to something more akin to Hello Kitty.

Downtime

I love a good Downtime system. As a Play-By-Mail fan, I typically see downtime as something major, and equal to everything else in a tabletop game. Downtime is a great chance for strategising, as well as a good place to highlight whether the PCs have things to discuss; I’ve had downtime lead to whole sessions of PCs discussing things that have been bugging them, and working out major plot points. Downtime can be thought of as a break in the weather, the calm before the next storm. There are plenty of things in the Cryptomancer Downtime system to think about, and for people like me that love this this often ignored part of role-playing, I am sure you will enjoy the options, and maybe you’ll hack your own.

Cryptomancer Downtime

Writing & Design

Overall I really like the writing style. I think it does a wonderful job of introducing concepts and overall the book has clear explanations. As there is so much being covered, not just the classic tabletop RPG aspects, but also encryption/security explanations, the book could be accused of being a bit much for some. I think it is fair to say that the book is not perfect (what is?), so I don’t want to give the impression I think Cryptomancy is the exception. I think a valid criticism could be a lack of rules being repeated, or some more rules summaries, and maybe more things could be in the index. I suspect this was an intentional decision mostly down to the issue of preventing an already large book becoming even bigger.

Many design reasons are explained, which I appreciate, and I think this also helps with explaining a topic, by providing extra context. I don’t believe that these design explanations were defensive in nature, or so numerous that they distract from the game explanation, so I am sure most readers will appreciate their inclusion.

Sheets

Whilst reading comments on the game I was intrigued that the character sheet had been highlighted as being something that was a bit different, complex even. For me, the character sheet is well designed, having a distinctive attribute & skill section, it also has sections for core character points of interest and utilises white space well.

Cryptomancer also has a system for Safehouses, a good place for the party to carry out downtime. Safehouses have their own sheets to help keep track of things, and given the likely lifestyle of the PCs, it is a rare place of safety for them, and something else for them to care about. The sheet is quite detailed, but has been laid out well, utilising space and boxes well to help differentiate information.

Summary

I think the game succeeds in its goal of spreading understanding of encryption and cybersecurity to the RPG community, and maybe vice versa. Whether a player is new or an experienced role-player, there is definitely something in this game for everyone; that is a rare thing, and thus Cryptomancer is something I highly recommend. Additionally there is a free expansion book: Code & Dagger, and with Code & Dagger vol. 2 on the way, this game’s value keeps increasing.

http://cryptorpg.com/

You can buy the game at http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/186678/Cryptomancer