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 14

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 14th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

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

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 14 #RPG try games with lineages #Pendragon #L5R #Birthright #DnD, adapt any game #Vampire #Cyberpunk etc

I give some examples below that I hope will help inspire some role-players, but I’ll start by building upon the answers I gave for Day 8 and Day 9: “Any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity…” Since there are so many games available, and many of them have sections written about different types of campaigns, any of them should make a great foundation for an open-ended campaign.

Going back to the early days of RPG, that default stance was that of an open-ended campaign, but this was certainly not a rule, and I am sure there were countless intentionally short games back in the 70s and 80s. Even in game like Call of Cthulhu, were the idea of the party surviving for very long was almost a joke, yet I still met gamers that played the same Cthulhu character for years in the same campaign. Given how many gamers there are, I quickly learned not to be surprised by odd stories; like everything else, RPGs have bell-curve outliers.

Batjutsu RPG dice scene

Pendragon, and its somewhat D&D equivalent of Birthright, practically sets out from the start that the players will build towards a long campaign that covers lifetimes. With this sort of time scale, things like marriage and children are not just important, they are brought to the front of game and character goals. I was introduced to Pendragon with “That campaign really gets going by your 3rd character.”

Given the lethality of Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R), it was no surprise to read a section in the first GM screen booklet about recommending to players about family connections to replace characters. Given the cultural gravitas of family in Rokugan, as well as a setting in which some characters are willing to kill themselves, a player being able to play one of their now dead character’s family, or fellow Clan members helps to take the sting out of death, and keep the campaign momentum. Even in the case of a Total Party Annihilation (TPA (TPK, TPW)) this method can work well.

A setting like the World of Darkness is one that could make for an ideal open-ended campaign, with its vast game options and history to draw upon. Playing an immortal creature, like a Vampire or Spirit, allows for sessions covering many different time periods, which could keep going. Back in the 90s I ran a multiplayer Vampire Methuselah PBM game, the plan being the players would play for years carefully moving against each other. Amusingly one player went to war quickly, and things were gloriously complicated. This led to a second game and longer game, WoD: Night City (I used Cyberpunk’s Night City sourcebook). It was overall great fun, and these games were part of the reason I got a job working at KJC Games.

I am currently running Secret Rage, another PBM game in the cWoD with an epic campaign length planned; the game begins at the dawn of time. I’ll be blogging about that after the #RPGaDay month, along with more on my RPG Game Types series.

I am a firm believer in buying and trying many different RPGs to make my mental tool belt more diverse. The more tools on the belt the better, as well as learning to recognise which RPG tool for which RPG, plus game/group needs.

Over the years this attitude has helped me more easily adapt rules between games, as well as ways of thinking about different ways to approach and run/play games. For a group that has not played games like those listed above, I am sure they could have a lot of fun incorporating ideas like those of Pendragon in to any game.

With things like Cyberpunk or Cthulhu, were lethality is both in the setting and the mechanics, you could consider using an organisation (Corporation/Secret Society) as the pool for the PCs. This approach would also work well for a Supers game, whether needed due to a more lethal style, or playing a Supers team over different eras, or following a Supers bloodline.

#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/

My Curious Cthulhu Visits

Several weeks ago I was abruptly awoken, but not due to my normal constant pain interrupting my sleep, but due to an abnormal feeling. I was quite surprised to see upon the ceiling a multitude of writhing tentacles. As my brain struggled to comprehend what I was perceiving, and my heart-rate raced, the tentacles slowly retreated back to what I eventually determined to be a porthole. Whilst I motionlessly observed things, I became aware of a single bizarre eye that was staring back at me, comprehending me in an alien way. For a moment I was gripped with terror, surprised by the insanity of the vista before me. I knew I was most clearly awake, but for a split second I wondered if reality had changed, or I was somewhere else. Seconds later I saw a small tumbling gorilla hovering between myself and the now closing porthole. A calming thought reminded me of the psychology experiment of video of the basketball game and the person in the gorilla suit… Focus on the gorilla, not the eldritch horror! My feelings of dread subsided as the last tentacle finally closed the porthole, then the gorilla left.

Over the week I experienced more interrupted sleep. Nothing unusual there, but the regular eldritch visitations certainly were, as were the tumbling gorillas; I even had one night when I saw a 4by4 grid of them.

I attempted to try and write about my experiences, but my words felt inadequate, failing to capture the depth of the visitations. I was struck by how ludicrously clichéd the idea of a sleep deprived writer going crazy was, plus as I analysed my writings/ramblings my normal hypercritical opinion of my work screamed at me that I was writing poor fanfiction.

Although I have been suffering from sleep deprivation for a year, what had recently changed was I had been prescribed Amitriptyline due to its common side effect of causing drowsiness. My doctor thought that using Amitriptyline combined with the Remedeine (opiate) could help over-ride the pain interpreting my sleep. I did initially manage to get a few nights of basic uninterrupted sleep before returning to lacking sleep; this was slightly better than my last year’s pattern. Whilst I might have had a bit more sleep that week, I decided to stop taking the drug, since most of the sleep I was getting resulted in a horrifying moment of anxiety when I woke. With the drug out of my system the hallucinations no long occurred.

All in all a fascinating set of experiences, that one day might result in some interesting fiction, and most certainly aid me running role-playing sessions, but I’d rather not have had to go through the process. Sleep wise I have struggled on, I am currently attempting some new non-pill approaches to improving my sleep, and to continue to try do as little as possible so I can prioritise healing.

One possible positive take away is that it seems during the initial hallucination I was quickly able to appreciate my situation, and crucially calm my freaking out heart-rate and panicking thoughts. The later visions just felt like I had to wait for the visitations to wrap-up. A paranoid thought follows this, that my brain chemistry might have been badly affected by the drug, on top of the long-term sleep issues, somehow sowing the seeds for a future psychotic breakdown, because one never knows. Thankfully I’ve had no hallucinations since, which beats my paranoia back in to a sensible state.