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:

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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 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 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 18

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 18th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 18 likely #WoD but maybe #DnD. #Cyberpunk and #L5R get to fight over the bronze.

The top four were no surprise to me, but instead of indulging in reminiscing about long running campaigns, my thoughts took me to a few other places. Having read many other tweets, blogs and watched a bunch of videos on this question, it is good to see that other gamers are reminiscing about the hours they spent, and not declaring any time a waste. I am sure most gamers know someone who proclaims they wasted time on a particular system. I believe more gamers would agree with me, that the hours spent with one system, provide us with transferable skills to other games, and a better overall mental RPG tool-kit.

If the hobby of role-playing was starting now, I am sure most games would be tightly integrated with software tracking various things. Then this question could be answered quite accurately, since undoubtedly there’d be a “Total Hours Played”, as well as a list of achievements. I am sure the hobby will go that way, and I am an example of an enthusiastic role-player who can code a bit and has plans to do my bit to help. Digital character sheets have been around for years, and I am guessing that virtual gaming tables are growing in popularity; I’ve certainly heard them discussed more. What’s next emergent AI GMs?!

 

#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 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.