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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#RPGaDay 23

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 23rd day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 23, #RPG, #GURPS

I was blown away when I was 11 and I first saw AD&D 1st Edition; it seemed even more impressive than the D&D boxsets. I had the same reaction a short time later when I looked through the Manual of the Planes 1st Ed. The pictures and text layout emphasised the goal of the book, an encyclopaedia of places and metaphysics to explore. For my formative years I have had similar reactions with the majority of RPGs I looked at: Cyberpunk, Warhammer, Vampire, Palladium, etc. I guess typically for my age, even a game with poor layout didn’t particularly bother me; I’d mine it for what I liked regardless.

This changed in the 90s when I finally took a lot at GURPS. I found the books to be jaw dropping, the sheer amount of information crammed in to them. Even the content pages are detailed and long. The layout style in GURPS is further enhanced by its usage of sidebars to layer even more information. I know from chatting with a few other people that the layout of GURPS added to their apprehension with the game, they felt the book was assaulting them with information. I appreciate their point, but for me it’s almost like having a book within a book.

GURPS layout

After I’d seen GURPS I did keep coming across works that impressed me, but I didn’t have the jaw dropping reaction. Even with games I adore: L5R, Changeling: The Dreaming or Aberrant.

As I gained professional experience with layouts, I was required to learn more about the power of layout. When I made the Quest: GM Edition rulebook, it was all about providing information without swamping the reader; I still have mixed opinions on that work, but at least I worked hard on it. Whilst, when my old boss converted the Beyond the Stellar Empire game to Phoenix, he settled on a layout similar to GURPS approach for the rules, which suited the nature of that in-depth game. We discussed different layouts for hours, as well as examining other peoples’ work, fun times.

These days I genuinely appreciate the craft of layout, and the time sink it can involve. I think I’ve finally figured out the layout for my massive role-playing guide, which for years I kept altering. I felt that most of the previous designs, gave the work the presentation like that of a waffling textbook. I feel I still need to learn a lot more, especially given how impressive RPGs can be these days.

There have been many great examples posted for today’s question. In particular Runeslinger’s answer introduced me to a very impressively designed book.

This video gives a good overview on the power of layout:

#RPGaDay 22

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 22nd day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 22, #RPG, simple answer #DnD #Cyberpunk #WoD, more at:

Today’s question is another one that is difficult for me to answer, due to how many different directions it invited me. Like many others, there are lots of games I love and find easy to run. Unlike the questions for day 8 and 9, this question cannot be answered with all systems. I recognise that even with a few systems that I love, I lack substantial game time running them. Thus it would be daft of me to claim that everything would be equally easy for me.

Please indulge me as I examine some different layers with today’s question. Part of the fun of RPGaDay is exploring a question from multiple perspectives, whilst keeping the positive spirit in mind.

My System Experience

I have many systems that I have run so much that I would be comfortable running them, as is, for long sessions, even without preparation. Such as: D&D, Storyteller (cWoD, Trinity, Street Fighter, et cetera), Cyberpunk, L5R, Witchcraft, Suzerain, or Reign. Maybe I could claim a few more systems, but I suspect there would be moments of mental uncertainty about their particular rules, and thus they wouldn’t be the easiest for me.

Player Knowledge

I appreciate that besides my own understanding of a game’s setting, there is also the consideration of each player’s knowledge, which can affect how a game flows. Obviously a new player is not guaranteed to disrupt anything, whether because they bring a lot of transferable skills/knowledge, or maybe the type of character they are playing means they don’t need to know much OOC.

Having run L5R sessions that included players that were new to that setting, they asked a lot more questions than when they had previously been introduced to the classic World of Darkness. This highlights how research is a factor in making things easier for everyone. I’ve also had players who were able to join in L5R without any issues; as always I try to keep in mind that each individual is an individual 😉

Investment and Mood

I think all the factors listed above, combine with each individual’s general mood, to determine how easy it is to run a game. I include myself in regards to mood, since I have experienced sessions when I lacked my normal enthusiasm.

I would prefer to try out a system I barely know with an enthusiastic group, than to struggle running a game I know really well with indifferent players.

Conclusion

Reflecting upon the many different games I have played, and forcing myself to pick one game, then my answer is Cyberpunk. I nearly choose the World of Darkness, since the design of that setting utilises the real world, with added supernatural layers that many people are familiar with. The reason I choose Cyberpunk is because even at 14 years of age, myself and my fellow players had enough movie and book references, so the setting made sense, helped by it being the near future. The brutal mechanics fitted the style of game, and despite loving the game, I really dislike the mechanics. Years later, I still find Cyberpunk easy to run.

I did ponder and write some other things, but I felt I was getting too indulgent. The wonder of exploring subjective opinions, as well as why we each have our own.

#RPGaDay 21

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 21st day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG does the most with the least words?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 21, #RPG #L5R Haiku 😉 #GURPS Lite, #SavageWorlds more at:

Today’s question hits a personal struggle for me, learning how to do the most with the least amount of words. Years ago when writing rulebooks, I tended towards a lot of detail; I liked providing examples to help clarify things. It took a lot of work to determine what to cut, especially since some of the customers wanted even more detail. Over the years I have strived to improve my writing, reminding myself “it takes more effort to write less”, as well as the old quote “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Whilst I have gotten better at this, it is still a struggle.

A bit of comedic answer first, but I do have a serious point when I mention L5R and a game of haiku. I’ve run a few L5R sessions that did have a lot of haiku scenes; one of my players had a character that loved Haiku, and wanted to do more, but the character was a bit shy, so he would show me their work via his character journal. I have some design notes about a Haiku game, but I’ll save that for another blog. Since this quirky pseudo-L5R Haiku game only partially exists in my head, clearly it is not a good answer to the question 🙂

Batjutsu GURPS prep

A small overview of role-playing, rules, and settings are all someone technically needs to get going, imagination can do the rest. A small introductory game can work wonders, for example GURPS Lite is only 32 pages, and it’s free! I think GURPS Lite is a great way to introduce a system that is famous for its vast amount of options, despite owning a lot of GURPS, I stuck with Lite for my first session. Similarly Chaosium has a free rule lite called: Basic RolePlaying. My go to advice with anyone new to role-play, save the epic till later, or change your perspective:

Small can be epic, it’s all in the delivery.

There have been a lot of tiny RPGs made over the years. I’ve actually not played that many and none of the ones I’ve played stood out to me. I would like to play more of them, especially the newer ones due to how the technology/knowledge of role-playing keeps expanding. When I used to go to conventions, besides playing a lot of D&D and Star Wars Living Environment, I also set aside a few sessions to try out new games. With online games, and in particular one-shots, I know things are easier these days; now to resolve that time issue we all have.

I appreciate that having a condensed overview might be considered to be lacking some depth, which a bigger rulebook can convey. Savage Worlds is a good example of a game that packs a lot in to a lower page count that most core rulebooks.

Today’s RPGaDay question has provided some interesting recommendations:

Runeslinger’s #RPGaDay 2017: Day 21

#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.

cropped-batjutsu-books2.jpg

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 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 😉

d6

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.