Spirit Game – Secret Rage

This continues on from PBM Thanks & Secret Rage.

I developed the Secret Rage idea by changing the player character from that of following a lineage of Garou, to that of playing a powerful spirit. Making the game about a powerful spirit, something effectively immortal, which can guide Garou, who the player can also play, gave me the idea: “A chronicle to prevent the Apocalypse”. This idea links to the forthcoming new World of Darkness that is in development, which builds upon the old World of Darkness (oWoD), but the end days (Gehenna, Apocalypse, or Ascension) never happened.

The scale of this spirit game is even bigger than my old Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM games, more like the professional games I ran at KJC Games. Whilst the spirit has vast powers and epic plans, the key is to treat the character like any other, to be propelled by motivations and personal drama. An added benefit with this project is it also allows me to playtest ideas from a commercial PBM project that I’ve been working on for years: Elemental Masters. This game is about the building blocks of reality and the plots of pantheons; I seriously need a better name than this working title, meh.

A few RPGs go in to some detail about spirits, particularly several of the World of Darkness (old WoD & Chronicles) as well GURPS Spirits. Sadly despite the numerous details they present, I still wanted more depth. To be fair to those books, I do tend to go overboard with my ideas, plus the Spirit label is so all-encompassing, so it is no surprise that a collection of predominately enigmatic entities are described in vague terms. One of the strengths of the WoD books is how many ideas they present, whilst not creating a rigid structure to limit possibility. As normal for any GURPS book, GURPS Spirits is filled with a plethora of thought provoking ideas, and plenty of rules options, plus plug-ins to such a powerful system.

When I first read the Werewolf I was reminded of how the game brilliantly compares with Dungeons & Dragons; I’ll justify that statement another time. Manual of the Planes was my favourite D&D book, and Planescape is my favourite setting, so it is no surprise to reveal that Umbra is my favourite WoD book, my second favourite is the Mage Book of Madness.

Spirit Scale

Given the cosmological scale of any spirit world to its setting, any decision made can have far reaching impacts upon said setting. It is common to declare that the ephemeral nature of spirits makes them mysterious to mortals/beings of flesh, which is understandable given that Spirits are not player characters (PCs). The three tiered Umbra (High, Middle and Low) in the old World of Darkness effectively contains every idea and its spiritual impact, so detailing literally everything would be an impossible task. It is up to each group as to the scale of any Umbral impact they want to explore, there is certainly enough information for any Storyteller to launch all manner of games.

Given how many different games I’ve played for extended periods, I’ve gotten to explore the core setting of each game. This is another reason for my obsession with all RPG cosmologies, to explore. For example a very long running game of Legend of the 5 Rings slowly became about the setting’s cosmology; I am quite looking forward to the forthcoming 5th Edition and to see what more they add. As a Star Trek fan, I did consider another name for this campaign:

Tellurian Trek!

Spirit Courts

Another important consideration is the complexity of any Spirit Courts, powerful gatherings that surely would have connections to each other. A design dilemma is how best to present such entities, especially if they are long-lived, and thus would have many ancient relationships to work out; never mind the historical events they could discuss.  The Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape went in to a lot of detail about the Blood War, which I think really added depth to the D&D cosmology; the machinations of ludicrously powerful entities and Gods is better presented in that setting. Werewolf did a good job of summarising many Spirit Totems and their relationships, and the setting itself is based around the Triat and Gaia.

I believe the vast cosmological scale of is one of the key reasons so many players of the World of Darkness setting preferred Vampire over Werewolf or Mage, and to a lesser extent Wraith, Changeling and Demon. Vampire is a rich enough game; it has plenty of characters, depth and history, without needing the Umbra to be brought out of the shadows. When Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand came out, a few players I chatted with explained that they didn’t like the new layers of plots, and some said they disliked the Umbral tie-ins; there were of course forum posts debating this point. Several players I’ve chatted with who love Werewolf or Mage typically list the vast cosmology as a reason why they do. Of course plenty of players, like myself, appreciate the different games for different reasons.

Spirit Psychology

Years ago I had written a collection of ideas about Spirits for Elemental Masters setting, but I had not fleshed my ideas out enough. Typically for me I had avoided finalising ideas due to constantly feeling that I needed to research more. Finally with years of research and this idea for Secret Rage I was able to finalise ideas. I had been working on detailing the psychology of different types of spirits, also drawing upon computing and philosophical ideas. Exploring ideas such as compartmentalised minds, how an Incarna’s brood relationship works, how I think slumber works, more about a spirit’s relationship with Gnosis, Gaia, etc. My spirit work is not ready for public release, but things are at a good playtesting stage, which Richie and I will explore.

I’ve considered whether to develop this work in to a commercial product, so it is interesting to note that the new White Wolf have the Storytellers Vault.

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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/

#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 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 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.

RPG Lessons Watching Games 2

The first part of this topic can be read here.

In the 90s, whilst visiting a friend in another town, I went with him to one of his local gaming groups. The game being run was Vampire the Masquerade, although I’d have been happy with whatever the game was, but sadly for me there were already six players. I appreciated that it wasn’t always easy to involve a new player, especially in to a busy group that were in the midst of things. Additionally, since I would only be attending for a single session I didn’t want to upset the flow of the game by asking to be included. So since I had not watched another person’s game for a while, I was happy to just observe.

The Storyteller (GM/ST) ran a very smooth game of Vampire, keeping the players well engaged. Over the course of several hours I got to appreciate yet another perspective on the setting, rule interpretations, and game flow.  Back then I had primarily been playing Vampire, and the rest of the World of the Darkness (cWoD). I was almost starting to get bored of Vampire, which is likely a shock to anyone that knows me.

I had become an Elder Storyteller, ennui was setting in, gaming torpor could have followed; although thankfully not a Garou’s Harano.

The Storyteller was running a seemingly standard Vampire game, but as blasé as I could have been, I instead found watching the game helped to reinvigorate my waning passion. I don’t think it would have mattered if had been running a massively altered version of Vampire. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas, or that I had grown indifferent to the layers of scheming with players about their character plans. It was more simply the sheer amount of hours I had been running games for over the years, they had caught up with me.

3rd Lesson: the value of having a break from running games.

This is obvious to me now, but all those years ago, it was a bit of a surprise that my favourite pastime of running games was starting to take a toll on me. For years I had been gaming as much as I could, in multiple groups, so I was playing every day, and we normally played long sessions. Fundamentally I was doing the same thing day in, day out, and that had become a bit of problem, no matter how much I enjoyed it. At this time, when I wasn’t running games, I was normally reading gaming books, and working on details for one of my games. Nearly all of my socialising was about role-playing. So as much as I loved running games, I started doing a bit more besides role-playing.

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4th Lesson: Recapture the spirit of being a player.

I was reminded that with all the GMing, I had been missing out on the fun of playing. I considered how taking a break from running games, and being a player would mix things up for me, so I didn’t have to drop out of any of the groups I was in. When I got home I made plans to just play again in some of the groups I game with. It was refreshing being back as a player, to not know the depth of game details I knew as the GM, and to reconnect with exploring a character and the setting.

5th Lesson: Play something different, even retry things.

I even joined in with a few games I had previously grown bored of, as well retrying games I had found to be lacking. One of the beauties of role-playing is the wealth of systems and settings, and our own imagination, so there is no reason to fixate on just a few games, even if those games are rich in variations like the World of Darkness or D&D. Over time our preferences will normally change, so we could be in quite a different mental place. This is more likely to be the case as we try out different games. The result is we will build a more complex connection of gaming knowledge, further modifying our preferences. Plus let’s not forget the power of nostalgia.

I have an anecdote about the particular Vampire game I watched, I’ll write about for the next article.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games by Batjutsu

Part 1 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/rpg-lessons-from-watching-games/