Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #16

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

In general, I prefer to use most games "as is." Rules As Written. RAW. Even "back in the day," when we played AD&D as our game of choice, we tried to incorporate every rule in the game (speed factor, weapon speed, segments, spell components, chance to hit helmet, encumbrance, weapon vs. armor type, etc.). We got so proficient at it, that it take all that much time...though certainly rules might be forgotten and "fall through the cracks" in the heat of the moment. We were so damn pleased when the Unearthed Arcana was released and provided a simplified unarmed combat system that worked so much easier than the pummeling/grappling rules found in the DMG.

I've never been a fan of modifying rules. Even with all the mods and tweaks found in the multitude of posts on this blog, more often than not when actually playing a game of B/X I fall back on my default RAW assumptions (or I try out a "house rule" for a session before reverting to RAW). Most of my wildest deviations from B/X are really new games...games I've created using a B/X base as a "chassis" to build upon. Whether I'm talking about space vikings or The Goblin Wars or some sort of space/Jedi game, I'm building a game to fill a need that isn't met by another game or system.

I have lots of reasons for preferring to run games as they're written:

  • It's easier to run a game when you abide by an accepted set of rules. Having a rule book as the ultimate "authority" settles a lot of disagreements.
  • I've come to find over the years, that a lot of designers had very specific ideas about their RPG concept, and failing to utilize the rules they've provided can drift the game into something different from what the designer intended.
  • Some might consider me otherwise, but I don't really think of myself as a "tinkerer" by nature. I like to deconstruct rules, try to figure out how/why they're in there, but I'm not one of those guys who opens the box (or book) and immediately sets about modifying things to taste. Maybe I'm lazy that way.
  • But I'm also prideful and arrogant. I consider myself pretty sharp, and I enjoy mastering a new set of rules, finding ways to make them work in interesting ways for my own benefit. That's not to say I'm interested in min-maxing things...working for "my own benefit" often means using the rules creatively to manifest my own vision. Like using 3rd Edition D&D to model Gandalf from The Hobbit (the novel), even though such a character isn't necessarily an "optimal build" for that particular game.

It is unfortunate (in my mind) that many folks can't or won't take the time to learn and run games as they're written. One of my many frustrations with 3rd Edition D&D was that no one besides myself seemed willing or able to play the game "by the book." I famously remember one DM who wanted to run a "high level" campaign and had us all create 15th level characters. During our first round of combat, he literally threw up his hands and said, "I give up," because the damn thing was too complex for HIM to run and manage with all the fiddly bits and rules that come from such massive stat blocks.

[and by "give up" I mean he ended the game and campaign right then and there]

And he was but one of many folks I encountered who failed, failed, failed as a 3rd edition DM...and not even the worst of them.

My copy is actually pink, not sepia.
But I digress. I suppose the word to emphasize in the question is "enjoy." Well, I enjoy running most, if not all games, as is. But if you mean "Which games do I most enjoy," I think I'd say Ken St. Andre's Stormbringer (1st edition) has provided me a ton of enjoyment, as is, straight out of the box, without any modification or changes whatsoever. It almost perfectly captures Michael Moorcock's world, as well as its themes and dark humor (you still have to inject your own tragedy, should you care for that kind of thing), and player characters are almost certainly doomed...but the ones that survive, even for a little while, always feel like they've really accomplished something. Which is cool and fun and enjoyable...if a little masochistic.
; )

[folks interested in my Day 7 post, should check out this link; only two more back-dated posts]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #15

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

All right, there's no going off-book with such an easy question. B/X. Hands down. The easiest, most readily adaptable system I've come across...at least as far as fantasy adventure gaming is concerned. I've used it to model space Vikings and Dark Sun-style gladiators and horror hunters and faerie wars and Shadowrun and and Star Wars and 40K-style chaos war bands and subaquatic science-horror.

Easy-shmeezy.

And I'm sure there are plenty more uses for the B/X chassis. I know lots of people have used it to kit-bash systems for their favorite settings...folks much smarter and more creative than myself.

It's not ENDLESSLY adaptable, of course. It's not the best system for investigative/mystery-style role-playing (that would be something like GUMSHOE). And it doesn't really do light-hearted stuff or romance (probably RISUS is an easier fit). Vehicle-stuff is pretty tough to write, except in the most superficial manner (so settings that FEATURE a lot of in-vehicle action is difficult with B/X). And, no, there's not a whole lot of character development that occurs in B/X-style play, save for the kind that occurs from recording the experiences of you character over time (in your memory, if not necessarily on your character sheet).

But even so: I love it. I enjoy fantasy adventure gaming. That particular brand of escapism is my cup o tea. And the B/X edition of D&D is the system I enjoy adapting more than any other.

[folks interested in my Day 6 post, should check out this link; nearly caught up!]

Monday, August 14, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #14

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

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

Tempting as it is to do yet another Vampire post, despite its scope (start your game in ancient Babylon! Stop off at the middle ages, run a few sessions through various eras and decades of the 20th century!), the game tends to collapse under its own weight. Not to mention, if you continue the immortal being timeline you can't help but end up with Vam-Pires In Spaaaaaaaace! Which is a simply awful idea. Listen, people, THIS is what a space vampire should look like:

Nightmares for years...thanks, Thundarr.

NOT this:

Come on, Wilma...Nosferatu has nothing on Buck!

So, no...Vampire always needs an end...generally once every player character has met a much-deserved, fiery death, or has become stuck in a thousand year torpor.

Other games suggest themselves for long-term, "open-ended" campaign play, but which is best? Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself considering AD&D as the best of the bunch. Even better than B/X, if we are going to limit ourselves to using the Rules As Written...and I think that's only fair with regard to this question. Otherwise, you could modify most games for long-term play.

But AD&D (first edition) provides a lot of structure for long-term play, including options for high level play and exploration...monsters and magic that can still appeal to jaded player characters even after years of play (presuming you don't dole out too much, too fast), while providing so many optional options ('porting in Boot Hill and/or Gamma World) that there's little chance of getting bored with the game. Mainly, though, I like that AD&D has built-in decrepitude...rules for aging that will (eventually) force most characters to retire and "pass on the torch" to trusted henchmen and/or progeny.  And unlike Vampire and other "generational" games (Pendragon, Ars Magica, Chivalry & Sorcery), being set in a mythic/fantasy realm, there's little chance that your campaign will last into some age of anachronism, even through successive generations of adventurers. Generally, most AD&D settings take place in a magical realm that never develops past a pseudo-16th century tech level.

So, yeah...AD&D. Even though I've been more a proponent of B/X and its simple elegance, taken RAW the AD&D game provides more tools for long-term play than the un-modified B/X game.

Just thinking about the possibilities almost makes me want to play the old thing. Almost.
: )

[folks interested in my "Day 5" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #13

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

Hmm...that's yet another tough question. I suppose they're designed that way, to promote thoughtful responses.
; )

Welp, it's hard to single out an instance of a game experience "changing" how I play. All the experiences I've had over the years, both at and away from the table, have gone into creating my "gaming acumen." Other than growing older and more mature (and perhaps a bit smarter, if not wiser), the way I play these days isn't much different from how I played 30-some years ago. I'm probably less self-conscious than I was in the past, more willing to "step up to the plate" when playing (as opposed to hanging back with a wait-and-see attitude). I'm more "proactive" when gaming, both in stance and action...but that comes with confidence from growing up and knowing yourself and not worrying terribly about what kind of an ass you make of yourself.

Now, as far as running games, there HAVE been ways I've distinctly changed my gaming style over the years. However, most of the ways in which I've changed have come about from things that occurred outside of play. However, looking back I can see at least one instance where an in-game occurrence prompted me to reconsider my approach to running games.

This was circa 1990 or '91 and I was running Vampire: the Masquerade for several high school buddies. It was my last year of high school proper, and these guys: Michael, Mike, and Ben had been my main gaming partners for the last couple years. Usually, I was a player in our games (they ran a lot of Palladium: mostly Heroes Unlimited or Robotech) though I had run a couple one-off games (Stormbringer and Rifts). Mostly, though, I'd been burned out on GMing after years of being a Dungeon Master (I'd likewise burned out on D&D, quitting play around the same time 2nd Edition came out), and was content to simply "ride along" as a passenger in someone else's world. That is, until I found Vampire and was inspired to take up the mantle of "Storyteller." There was a lot in VtM that appealed to an angsty 90's teenager like myself. Plus, I'd been a vampire fan since I was a very, very small child.

[fortunately I went to college before the whole "goth" thing started happening, so I never got swept up in that]

[*sigh* I should probably write a series of posts on Vampire and vampires one of these days]

ANYway...I was running Vampire for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the idea of the types of stories the game wanted to tell. World o Darkness games are all about storytelling, don'tcha' know...they just expect the players to do the work of creating the stories (rather than providing tools/systems to facilitate this *ahem*). So, here I was trying to tell stories of grim tragedy and dark romance and lost humanity in an intimate style that I was used to from my experiences back in the day with my prior AD&D group...and I was doing it with dudes who were, well, not all that into it.

As Ben told me during one session, "Look, man, I'm really not comfortable with this."

Ah, blood bonds. Yeah, they REALLY
weren't into this kind of thing!
My friend Michael was into it...but Michael, like myself, was interested in stage and theater and role-playing and character exploration. Ben and Mike? Ben would have rather been playing Steve Jackson's Toon. And Mike once told me, after I'd taken him to see some Oscar-nominated British drama, "Well, Jon, it didn't have any action, and it really wasn't funny, so I don't get why you think it's so great." Yeah, they collected comic books and they enjoyed a space opera anime liked Robotech (loved it, in fact...owned the whole series on VHS and had watched it multiple times), but they couldn't give a shit about anything other than super-powered punch-ups and giant robots exploding...melodramatic love triangles and mutant angst be damned!

So, I learned that sometimes you can have friends, even gamer friends, who aren't on the same page with you. Like, at all. And when you're running a game for them, you have to take this into account and accept it...or else move on. My Vampire games with those guys mostly involved shoot-outs with cops or discipline-powered duels and diablerie, and that's fine...I was a big fan of Near Dark long before VtM was a game. And eventually I moved on, and found other folks at university who had more of my mind-set when it came to role-playing.

You can't please everyone all the time. Not even yourself.

[folks interested in my "Day 4" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link]

Saturday, August 12, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #12

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Oh, boy. There are plenty of RPGs with good, excellent, or downright amazing artwork. But inspiring?

Mm.

Actually, I don't need to draw this out...one RPG springs immediately to mind, and is the hands-down, no brainer answer to the question. But I suppose I should describe what I think of as "inspiring RPG artwork." To me, I consider artwork in an RPG to be inspiring when it tightly fits the theme of the game, reinforcing it, and inspiring me to take part in the actual play of the game...in a way that coincides with the art being depicted.

Games can include good, even great or amazing artwork, but it's not always "inspiring" in this way. Spirit of 77 has some good art but, while it conjures to mind ideas about the concept of the game, it doesn't "move" me (and some of its "good" art actually detracts from the 70s movie vibe, feeling too much like a 90s comic book). Cadillacs and Dinosaurs had great interior art because it used Mark Schultz's wonderful drawings, but it only made me want to read more Schultz, not play its boring, boring game.

But there are many games with inspiring art: if the artwork in Moldvay's basic book hadn't been so inspiring, would I have fell into role-playing as passionately as I did? And I find Larry Elmore's work in the Mentzer Expert set is exceptionally inspiring for the scale and scope of that book. Hollow Earth Expedition has some great interior art, Stormbringer (1st) has some plates that convey the rather hopelessness of the setting (everyone dies, all the time), and FFG's recent line of WH40K based books (Deathwatch, Only War, etc.) have absolutely incredible interiors unified around their themes.

But for me, the most inspiring interior artwork I've come across has been the interior artwork of Vampire the Masquerade, 1st edition. Tim Bradstreet's black-and-white drawings perfectly capture the spirit and theme of "Gothic Punk," making that an actual thing, where no such term previously existed (to my knowledge, anyway). Along with his gorgeous chapter plates, the opening comic strip detailing a vampire's birth and journey over long centuries perfectly conveyed the scope and scale of the game. The second edition of the game was hardcover with shiny, magazine-like pages that failed to convey the same feeling of the 1st edition printing. The original was like opening some old tome found in an upstairs attic and discovering a mysterious world you never knew existed.  It made me a fan and player of the game for many years.

Yeah, Vampire. Hands down the best when it comes to inspiring interior artwork.

[folks interested in my "Day 2" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link. "Day 3" is posted here. Sorry, I'll be caught up soon]

Friday, August 11, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #11

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

This is an easy one, and I'll keep this short since it's nearly August 12th as I write this.

Twilight 2000 is a game I've written about in the past. It's quite well done, and as far as "speculative fiction," well...come one, folks. It's not that hard to imagine similar scenarios given our current political climate.

All it needs is a little update...call it Twilight 2019. Put together some stats for our currently military gear, vehicles, drones, etc. Update the tech and unit types for our potential enemigos. And bam...instant revival.

Wouldn't even change the (first edition) rules as written. Just bring it back to life. I'd play it.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #10

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Well, in this case it really depends on the game. The easy answer is "Google;" I run a search with the name of the game and "review" and see what the Google-machine returns.

However, that's usually not enough for me. I enjoy reading multiple reviews on a product, attempting to get different perspectives. A lot of reviews these days (unfortunately) spend a bunch of time discussing "production values," something I could care less about. Yes, a nice looking game looks good on the shelf, but (in theory) I'm buying these things to play.

RPG.net used to be my go-to for RPG and reviews...and still is when it comes to older games. But older reviews tend to disappear off the site and the things that actually get reviewed tend towards only the most popular or buzz-worthy games and supplements. It's become kind of a wasteland over there (I never bother reading the comments on reviews).

Furthermore, while I do purchase things off DriveThruRPG (and its sister sites) I pay little attention to the reviews posted to products. Usually, I'm going there to pick up something I've already decided to purchase (same with products on LuLu), so it doesn't matter to me whether some anonymous user posted they like or dislike something. When I want a review I prefer something a bit more "in depth," hopefully with some actual experience playing the thing.

To this end, blogs are probably the most informative places to find on-line reviews...hence the necessity of Google (as different blogs have different systems and genres on which they focus).

However, Google is the EASY answer...the one I can give you, dear readers, if you're looking for an easy way to get reviews (and it is easy, and I do utilize it). But my best answer is to get actual word-of-mouth reviews from people with direct exposure to a game. And in my case, that means talking to the folks at my favorite local game shop, Around the Table Game Pub in Lynnwood. When I'm browsing the shelves and come across an interesting, unfamiliar game, it's the folks behind the counter who I'm first to talk to: usually Tim (Morgan) the co-owner/manager, but Nick, Josh, etc. are usually pretty knowledgable. They're generally pretty knowledgable, able to tell me about the system, the setting, the designers (especially if they're local), and the gameplay. They can tell me if a game is selling, if it's popular, if they see people playing/enjoying the thing, because the game pub is open to folks gaming all week long. And even if they don't have any info on a game, they can sometimes direct me to someone else who knows more about it (even if it's one of their colleagues who's not in the shop that particular day).

These "interactive reviews" are often more helpful than anything I read on-line, if only because I can ask questions (and follow-up questions) specifically pointed at the issues that meet MY needs as a potential customer. I should mention I do this in other shops as well, but the folks at Around the Table are the best.

Plus they serve beer.
; )

Just what it says.

[for folks interested in my "Day 1" post for the #RPGaDAY, check out this link]