April 22, 2014

Am I Behind the Times?

In a recent discussion on some forum board it was brought up that certain Pathfinder adventures do not provide the stats for some of the encounters/monsters the players can run into. Instead, notes are made as to which book contains the listed monster. This was done in the name of saving page space. Thereafter it was brought up that the stats can be looked up online for free so a GM does not need to actually own the book that has the monster stats.

I counter-argued that when I purchase an adventure I want the stats in the adventure I am running. Going online to look up monster stats is not extra work I want to be forced to do to run an adventure; any extra work I do to run an adventure is always geared toward integrating the published adventure to how my group and their characters play. However, this article is not about the merits of including monster stats in a published adventure. Instead, this article is about some of the comments during the discussion that leads me to believe that I am behind the times in how I run my rpg games.

It seemed to me that a lot of people were surprised that someone does not use a laptop or other device during game play. To them is seemed that using a laptop was natural and a no-brainer - that everyone does it now. Maybe this is a by-product of the modern age where everyone has some sort of device connected to the internet at all times. I am the only person in my circle of friends without a cell-phone. I do not game with a computer at the game table. Sure, I do use the internet and computers extensively for rpgs. Heck, I write a blog on gaming. The one thing I don't do is use one at the table on game night. I've never seen a need.

And yet there are now products being put out by one of the biggest rpg game publishers out there that in effect requires a gamer to have internet access - requires the use of the internet in order to be able to use their products. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with a product that absolutely requires outside sources in order to make it work. Back with 4E many people complained that you needed their character generation software in order to make characters. However, not even 4E required this; sure, it made things easier but they were never required. You could pick up any 4E adventure and run it without opening another book.

Is this intimate tie between gaming and internet (or computer devices) a thing that will continue to become even more intertwined? I certainly hope not, but I fear it will become so. I am all for computers and the internet enhancing play, but I feel they should be enhancements, not requirements. What do you think?

April 15, 2014

Reason #18 - Why I Like Published Material

I've already given you my Reason #21 - Why I Like Published Material. Here is another reason why I like them. They keep a DM honest. As a campaign goes on longer and longer, a DM begins to adapt to what the players bring to the game. If they always fly as they move down a corridor in order to avoid any potential traps, I will have the trip wire be placed at flight height. If they always spike shut a door after entering, I create doors that are soft and break when spiked. If the thief always stands on the right side of a potentially trapped door, I make sure to place the trap on the right side of the door. If they like to carry lots of flasks of oil, I make sure my monsters use fire against them.
Of course, this works the other way as well. If I put a stone wall in front of the character's progress, I also make sure they have a means at their disposal that will allow them to bypass that wall. I do not throw a level 25 monster at a level 2 party, unless I also provide a means for their escape.

Even when I don't do it consciously, there are times while creating my own adventures that I alter what the characters encounter based on my knowledge of what the players and their characters are capable of. Using a published module allows for me to run an adventure that was created without prior knowledge of the players and their characters. The characters will then run into things that may be below or above their expertise. If its below then the players can feel more powerful than I would normally allow them; if its above then the world feels more "realistic" and less contrived.

When running a published adventure my personal biases are not part of the equation.

April 8, 2014

Gamma World - Modern Pictures

One of the things we always found fun as Gamma World characters (or any post-apocalyptic genre game) was wandering through an old abandoned shopping mall. Right now there are many abandoned malls within the US that have been left vacant. Someone took a bunch of pictures of the insides and they really give off that post-apocalyptic vibe. If you are looking for such pictures to use in your game, check out the article here. Here are some samples...







April 2, 2014

One Page Dungeon Contest - My Entry

My entry into the One Page Dungeon Contest 2014 is called The Mad Gnome and the Earthquake Machine. It is a short fantasy dungeon crawl that emphasizes puzzles and tactical maneuvering, with one combat which has its own unique take on it.

As expected getting all the words I wanted to use in the space allowed, especially for a puzzle oriented dungeon was difficult. However, it was self-enlightening when I was forced to choose my words carefully, both for removing extraneous verbiage and trying to find the least of amount of words while trying to create a clear picture of what is going on. It's a lot different than writing a blog where I can (and often do) meander with my topics.

If you are interested you can take a look at the pdf here.

March 25, 2014

My 10 Favorite RPG Products

There was this thing tapping into the blogosphere last week where bloggers were giving us their Ten Favorite RPG Products of All Time. Dyvers started the chain and others jumped on board. Here are my personal selections and why. I have many, many book racks of gaming material, but these sit on the book rack closest to my desk where I keep all my "most important" books. And now, in no particular order...

Dungeons & Dragons 1E (Holmes)
This is where I started. This is the game that showed me what role-playing games were all about. Sure it has flaws, but as a beginning to rpg games this is a superb way to start. In fact, those flaws taught me one of the most fundamental things about rpg games; a person and/or group can make a game their own, changing it to their own views. That is not something you can do with a novel or movie or really any other sort of entertainment. Also, many of the core fundamental concepts of rpg games was presented to me with this product. Sure, other games may improve on some of the systemic mechanics or concepts, but the underlying groundwork of this product allowed for everything that followed, at least for me.

Feng Shui
This game is gonzo without turning into silly. It has a concrete setting and concepts that allow for a wide range of game play and styles. It creates a setting where the crazy makes sense. And it is a lot of fun. I remember my wife making a karate kid who could jump up and do a running windmill kick to the face and keep kicking for 10'. I remember my friend playing a secret agent whose special ability was getting captured and having the bad guy reveal his evil plan. The game allowed for a wide range of character types (sorcerers, cyberwarriors, secret agents, gunmen, martial artists, archers, etc). Also, my favorite NPC of all time came from this game: Hugo, the monster who could only say one word, his name, but he could say it with so much inflection and tone to convey entire sentences. My wife still asks me at least once a year to run a game again.
This is also where my rpg man-crush on Robin D Laws started.


Lords of Creation
This was my first "kitchen-sink" rpg game. It was released in 1983 and written by Tom Moldvay. In it you were allowed to play a character from any time period and genre. It was also an epic setting that, at the time for me, set it apart from every other setting. In it you could meet famous people from the past and future, as well as interact with the gods from our mythology. There was nothing a character could not run into. For me it was a broadening of my rpg horizons as to what an rpg could do. The rules were a bit clunky (or outright didn't cover something important) but the setting was one that ignited my imagination and made me want to run it.

Of course, the best part is that Sir Richard Burton (the explorer) is in the game as an NPC!

A couple of weeks ago I started rereading the rules and all of the released supplements (3 adventures). It all came across very dated and fitful. The adventures were railroads and suffered from deux ex machina too often for my tastes, but with some tinkering they would make epic adventures. Will I ever run it? Probably not, but the game still strikes a chord with me that keeps it as one of my all time favorite games.

Shadowrun
I have a love/hate relationship with this game. I love it as a player and hate it as a GM. As a player, I love the setting, the character options and rolling fistfuls of dice. As a GM, I hate creating encounters because I can't seem to strike the balance between running a complete push-over or it being so hard all the player characters die horribly. However, I keep coming back to the game. The system is fairly solid and interactive. It is possible to make different types of characters and have them all be useful. There are so many options (sometimes too much) that a player or GM can keep everything fresh for years to come.
And I love the setting. I love the fusion of cyberpunk and modern fantasy in a near future that makes it science-fiction but still keeps it close enough to our modern day to make it all feel comfortable. Similar to the rules system, the setting has a lot to work with.

Our group just started a new Shadowrun campaign; the first night of actual play is this Thursday. I'll be running it and hopefully, I'll get a handle on the challenge level. For now, I am excited to be playing Shadowrun again.

Flashing Blades
This is a Fantasy Games Unlimited game cast firmly in the genre of the Three Musketeers. I feel it is one of the better FGU games produced when the company was going strong. It does an excellent job of capturing the genre perfectly. In addition, it has a pirate supplement that also is excellent. The rules are simple enough to follow, though these days there are probably better, or at least more smooth, systems. However, the rules do what they are meant to do well.

The best part of the game is their system for character advancement in the various careers available to the player characters. There is a progression system for each career wherein the character can gain prestige and political power. For example, a priest can rise all the way up to become an Archbishop and/or Minister of France. Instead of the usual character advancement seen in games up until this one, wherein character advancement was tied to gold and items, this one offered something new.
I still want to run this game and so far is still my go-to system for a Three Musketeers style of game.

Lace & Steel
Similar to Flashing Blades, this is a Three Musketeers style of game. Unlike Flashing Blades this one is set in a unique world, has magic and centaurs/fey creatures are a major race. At first glance this could be dismissed as a Three Musketeers game with magic but it brings some new elements that I liked to the system. First and foremost is that verbal sparring is an integral part of the game. Sure there are rules for regular combat, but social interaction is as much a part of the game as combat. It is this level of elegance and eloquence that enriches the setting, making it something more than the typical hack-n-slash game. This is very much a game of intrigue and courtly manners, with a good amount of combat thrown in.

Legend of the Five Rings/Ceremony of the Samurai
This is the pseudo-Japanese game which introduced the roll & keep system. Herein players play samurai characters from a variety of unique clans in a setting plagued by a powerful evil. I particularly liked the roll & keep system as it gave some control of the dice to the players for narrative purposes. In one game, my wife's samurai "failed" to lie to a person when she chose to take the lower rolls because she felt her character would not lie to that person despite the rest of the party attempting to force her to. The rules set and setting make for an excellent game.

However, despite the fact I like the game a lot, the best thing the game brings to the rpg world is its introductory adventure, Ceremony of the Samurai. To me, this is the best introductory adventure ever written. It does exactly what such an adventure is supposed to do and then some. It introduces the game mechanics to the players, covering virtually all of what a character can do including sub-systems. It introduces the world setting to the players showing them how the important interactions work. It provides a challenging adventure where failing is not the end of the campaign (it revolves around a tournament). However, the actions of the players can affect the setting in a significant way (a minor clan is on the brink of elimination). It teaches, challenges, is relevant, and is actually a lot of fun to play. This is how all introductory adventures should be designed.

Necessary Evil
This is another adventure/campaign book. It is designed for the Savage Worlds system and was the first superheroes genre book for that system. The setting is about what happens when Earth is invaded by aliens and they kill all the superheroes, leaving only the supervillains to save the world. Player characters are those villains.

This book is a text-book example of how to run an "evil" campaign and avoid many of the pitfalls of such an endeavor. While the characters may be villains, there is a greater evil that they must overcome even if it is just for self-preservation. This greater evil is insurmountable (or at least appears so) forcing the characters to work together and trust each other if they are to succeed (thus avoiding the usual party in-fighting in most evil campaigns). There are opportunities to do "good" so characters can actually change and evolve over the course of the campaign instead being static characters like in so many other superhero settings. While the book provides adventures it makes no assumptions as to how the players will react to situations - positive results can result from both good and evil acts.

Overall this adventure/setting pushes all the right buttons.

Birthright
2E D&D produced many settings. My favorite is still Birthright. It is also the best system and setting for running a campaign focused on political rulership. It provides a setting where a player character does not have to be the ruler of a kingdom, but instead can rule in other areas. They did this by taking rulership down one step from kingdom rulership to the components of a kingdom. This new level included control of the Land, control of the Armies, control of the Money, control of the People and control of the Magic. This allowed for a divergent class selection on the part of the players, while still allowing them much the same level of rulership. It also allowed for rulership that would not necessarily impinge on the rulership of the other player characters. This allowed the PCs to actually work together to overcome problems.

The setting also was built around this concept of rulership. Monsters, magic and culture derived from rulership in one form or another. This acted to reinforce the rulership mini-game, keeping it in the forefront, even while PCs might be doing "smaller" things like adventuring.

Every once in a while I'll dig these books out and reread them as I prep for another Birthright campaign. I've converted the rules and setting to other systems, such as Rolemaster or HARP, as I believe there are better fantasy systems than 2E D&D. The trick is how to get my potential players to buy into the concept.


TORG/Masterbook
This is a "kitchen sink" setting wherein the Earth is invaded by beings from other cosmos determined to suck the energy out of our planet. With them, the invaders brought alternate realities such as fantasy, cyberpunk, pulp, spies and horror, supplanting Earth's realities with theirs. This created a mish-mash setting where players can choose from a variety of genres and play them in one huge interconnected game. I know my players loved the options available to them and that they never knew what they might be facing. One of my regular players still says this is his favorite game and wants me to run it again.

However, as fun and exciting the setting is, one of the more innovative things the game brought to our gaming niche is the concept of as evolving campaign setting as dictated by the players. Each month the producers of TORG, West End Games, would release new adventure hooks. Players would then report to West End Games how their individual groups did following up those hooks. West End Games would then incorporate the results into future releases. It all made for a very dynamic setting.

And here is where I sneak in an 11th Favorite Product disguised as a continuation of TORG. The Masterbook system came out of the TORG system. It is a generic game system designed to accommodate any type of genre. In my viewpoint, Masterbook does this both the best of any generic system and the most elegantly. Masterbook is the best rpg game system ever written.

Honorable Mentions
Here follow a few systems/supplements that I think are above the rest and among my favorites. They just didn't make the top 10.

Darksun
White Wolf World of Darkness
Ultimate Toolbox from AEG
7th Sea
Rolemaster
Savage Worlds