Friday, September 22, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Warlock (5th Edition OGL)

I’ve been a fan of Kobold Press’ Midgard setting since before it was really a setting. I missed the tactile feeling of my monthly Dragon Magazine when the magazine moved to a digital format when it was moved back in-house in the days of D&D 4th edition, so when Kobold Press started publishing Kobold Quarterly, I jumped on board.


Eventually, Kobold Quarterly faded away, but Kobold Press was putting out an enormous amount of content for the Midgard setting. The setting was never entirely defined by one set of rules, having products with stats for Green Ronin’s AGE system, Pathfinder, 4th edition D&D, 13th Age, and now 5th edition D&D.

Earlier this year, Kobold Press did a Kickstarter to fund a 5th edition version of the campaign setting, and now, as a follow up, they have set up a Patreon for Warlock, a ‘zine format publication to put out articles about the Midgard campaign setting with stats specifically tailored for 5th edition D&D. In some ways, having a published periodical about the Midgard setting brings us full circle from the Kobold Quarterly days. Almost like a Midgard serpent, wrapping around the fans. Or something less ominous, if that imagery isn’t for you.

Manifestations



As a Warlock patron at the five-dollar level, I get both the PDF and a mailed physical copy, so I had both available to look at for this review. For the purposes of this review, I’m looking at issue #1, which means all kinds of changes can come along as the company response to feedback or realizes what direction they may want to go, or how they wish to alter their current format.

The PDF is 24 pages long (as is the physical book), with a single page at the back for the OGL legal information. The artwork in the book is black and white line art, but it is quality work. Most of the articles in the magazine have one piece of accompanying artwork, but the Beldestan article has multiple NPC images as well as a map.

Physically, the book is on heavier weight paper, with a stapled spine, and digest sized. It’s a format you would expect for a ‘zine, but it utilizes quality components even in that format.

Warlocks, Witches, and Wanderings and The Forbidden Mountains of Beldestan

The introduction is a general welcome to patrons, and it explains the general purpose of the publication--to provide articles on the Midgard setting, supplemented with D&D 5th edition statistics. It also mentions that the individual issues may have themes, such as the first volume, which is dealing with eldritch horror related material.

The Forbidden Mountains of Beldestan section details a region where the worship of Dark Gods is prominent and open, and where gnoll and dwarf mercenaries help the slave trade by waylaying travelers. The region has its own special metal, which is given 5th edition stats, and there is a bullet pointed list of reasons why a group of adventures might visit.

In the Midgard setting, the Dark Gods are different than just “evil gods.” These are gods that most people in society have no use for, and don’t have many redeeming qualities. Some gods might be evil due to their capricious natures, but they aren’t Dark Gods, in the sense that even offering them prayers might be an invitation to ruin.

While the purpose of the publication is to provide 5th edition material, most of the information on Beldestan would be useful even to a GM running AGE system, 13th Age, or Pathfinder. The special metal would require the GM to do some creative work, but it could just remain as a plot element metal that someone, somewhere wants. I especially appreciate the bullet pointed list to call out why adventurers might end up in this region.

The Delights of Enkada Pishtuhk

The next article details an NPCs that might be placated in exchange for various rewards. The crux of the article isn’t to give stats to the NPC, but to build up their “weird” credentials as a hermit with very odd tastes. PCs that can feed those tastes (some of which are given as examples in the article) can find the eldritch spellcaster, and receive a reward.

There is a list of possible rewards, but the catch is that the rewards are in various locations that the wizard has visited in the past, and some of them may still have guardians or traps--although if the PCs can retrieve them, Enkada Pishtuhk is A-Okay with them taking them as payment for providing him with his odd tastes.

I like the way that PCs might contact a go between, the built in “quest” to bring the weird wizard his due, and the fact that the rewards might still be mini-adventures in and of themselves. The article is built to be used at the table, and gives the GM an excuse to send them all over Midgard on a scavenger hunt. The list of possible rewards makes it easier to use if the GM has nothing in mind, but more items can be added if they want the PCs to have a specific thing as well.

Most of the items that the wizard wants aren’t dependent on statistics, and the list of rewards contains items that either have statistics for various fantasy RPGs, or have easily researched equivalents, meaning that the article, like the previous one, has usefulness outside of 5th edition D&D.

Legacy of the Unhinged Gardeners

Tying in with the theme of eldritch abominations, this article is about some gardeners that ended up making evil mutant plants to fight off evil otherworldly insects, and what the remnants of their research looks like.

The article provides some location based effects and the stats to a new, evil plant creature. The story hooks tie into some other monsters from Midgard products. It’s a solid article, but I’m not sure it’s as strong as the previous articles in the collection, especially if you can’t convey the history of the plant monsters during the encounter.

Evil plants made to feed off otherworldly bugs is a cool origin for evil plants, but without that hook, it can feel a bit too much like “hey, remember Little Shop of Horrors?”

Void-Touched: Warped Flesh and Twisted Minds

The final article in the collection for the inaugural month uses some of the rules already in the 5th edition SRD to explain what might happen when people are exposed to the Void, the vast, cold, cosmic vastness of uncaring space.

The article gives situations that might cause a character to be Void Touched, provides DCs to resist those circumstances, and uses the long-term madness rules from 5th edition to show what happens when the mind is touched. As an alternative, a character can allow themselves to become flesh warped, which has positive and negative elements--including, you know, having visibly warped flesh.

I really like what this is doing, and the rules have broad applications in a campaign, where they can be used wherever you think the PCs might encounter sanity shattering or body warping magical power. The only downside, which isn’t really a downside, given the mission statement, is that this article is one of the more 5th edition stat dependent articles, and would take more work to adapt to another rule system.

Patron Boon

In twenty-four pages, there are a lot of adventuring hooks delivered. Not only do those hooks exist, but between the lists, examples, bullet points, and charts, it’s easy to pull that table-ready material out of the articles. 

Patron Disfavor

The Gardeners article is a little soft compared to the rest of the articles in the collection, but that’s not an entirely fair comparison, since there is consistently high quality throughout the book. While the Patreon clearly labels this as being for 5th edition D&D fans of Midgard, if you are used to the cross-system support provided from Kobold Press, the last two articles in the collection might be less useful to you. Then again, they did say this was for 5th edition D&D.

Pronouncement of Doom

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

In general, if you are looking for story hooks, interesting NPCs and encounters for a D&D-ish fantasy game, this product is going to provide you with a lot of value. Given that I received the print copy for my $5 patronage level, that’s pretty noteworthy.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

RPG A Day In Review

I was planning on writing a retrospective of RPG a Day as soon as it was over, with some thoughts fresh in my mind. I ended up not following that course of action, because I was so burned out from answering questions, I didn’t want to think about it for a while.

 
That said, it’s not because it is a bad event. It’s just really hard to stick to something, every day, for a whole month. That’s a lot of work.

Part of why I wanted to stick with it is that I’ve been trying to be more consistent with what I do, relating to my RPG hobby these days. I want to finish campaigns. I want to evaluate books that I purchased cover to cover. I want to follow through on what I start. Sometimes it may not be possible, but when it is, I want to ride it out.

As A Concept

I love RPG a Day as a concept. I enjoy sharing anecdotes and perspectives on the hobby, and in turn, seeing other stories and perspectives. I love anything that gets people to communicate more, and find more common ground.

Because of that, I liked the questions that allowed for more of an exploration of experiences. Sharing character moments and types of campaigns are great for this. Finding moments in the hobby that worked well and that didn’t work well. In those moments, we learn who our fellow gamers are, and sometimes we learn things about ourselves.

Execution

Some questions just fell flat. This happens every year. I don’t blame anyone for this. Coming up with a question a day for an entire month would be a terrible challenge. That said, I think the best questions were the ones that were open enough for a detailed answer, but focused enough to point the person in limited direction to draw from.

Asking a question that is too easily answered in a single word or phrase isn’t really starting a discussion. Asking too broad of a question, especially in the middle or at the end of a month of questions, is just going to shut someone down from too many options.

I also think that any “absolute” questions automatically start off on the wrong foot. Asking the “best” or “worst” is almost always going to be subjective, and it also invites the person answering the question to make a declarative statement, instead of asking them to start a discussion. If you ask someone their worst experience with something, they automatically know that the answer is from their perspective. If you ask them THE worst experience with something, and they answer in the spirit the question is asked, its very easy for people to view engaging with that answer as adversarial.

Reception

I have noticed it in the past, and it happened again this year, but some people seem to have a very strong reaction against this event. I guess I understand if all you see are responses to this event all day long. But if you follow someone, and you see value in following them the rest of the year, even if this event isn’t your thing, maybe its worth noting that they are getting something out of the participation.

I completely understand not wanting to participate. I understand not enjoying the event and not caring to see the responses. I’m not as keen on people actively railing against it, or even actively railing against people participating in it.

Next Year?

I’m not sure if I’m going to participate next year. It takes a lot of effort, and if I start, I feel obligated to finish. I definitely get something out of participating, and there are a lot of people that provided answers that I was not expecting, or that found depth or nuance to questions where I didn’t see it. I can appreciate that.

My wishlist for next year would be:

  • Fewer questions that utilize absolutes like “best” or “worst”
  • Fewer questions that assume a play style for the answer (i.e. that people have played long for campaigns or two hour sessions)
  • A little less cross-over between the types of answers a question might generate (day 7 and 13, for example, could have a lot of redundancy between them)

But for all of my wish list above, I don’t want to be overly critical. It can’t be easy coming up with these questions, and I think the result is a net positive for the community of RPG players.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bedlam Hall Review Up At Gnome Stew!

Wondering where my latest review is at? This time around, I'm going to graciously ask you to direct your attention to the illustrious and venerable Gnome Stew blog, where the gnomes have allowed me to post a guest article on their site.

Gnome Stew--Bedlam Hall Review

I'm very excited about this, as Gnome Stew has been one of my favorite sites for years, and I have tremendous respect for all of the regular writer that post there.



The review is for the Powered by the Apocalypse game, Bedlam Hall, so if that sounds like something that interests you, please head on over and give it a read.



Again, a tremendous amount of thanks for the gnomes for hosting the article.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Future Review Standards

In the past, I have mentioned that I need to have some kind of standard to keep in mind when I'm doing my reviews, but I've also mentioned that I'm not interested in measuring the overall worth of an RPG product as a creative endeavor, just giving recommendations and observations. Unfortunately, the star system I was using always felt more like later rather than the former.

After some thought, I came up with this new system. It roughly correlates to the stars I was previously used, but I think it puts the actual review more in line with what I'm trying to bring across with my observations and opinions.

Not Recommended--There isn’t much in this product that convinces me to tell others to pick it up.

Tenuous Recommendation--The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests. 

As with one star reviews previously, I'm not expecting to do too many reviews that end up with a "not recommended" rating. I'm hoping that by doing my due diligence, I'm not going to spend too much time on a product that I wouldn't recommend at all.

As with the five star rating, I'm going to reserve the "strongly recommended" rating for for those products that really don't come along very often, and that I feel have broad appeal, even beyond what may seem to be the target audience of the product.

Hopefully, this will make what I'm trying to communicate a bit more clear.

Thoughts on Storm King's Thunder--Structure and Pacing (Spoilers)

I just wrapped up my Storm King's Thunder game last night, and I have a few follow up thoughts on the adventure now that I have finished running it. This isn't quite a full post-mortem treatment, but rather the ideas that are most prominent in my mind as I wrapped the campaign.



Pacing

You can travel all over the North in this adventure. Tracking the exact number of days feels very anti-climactic, but hand-waving travel also seems to diminish the feel of how large an area the adventure encompasses.

The exact distances may vary, but Adventures In Middle-earth game me the idea that instead of precise tracking, you may want to break travel into short/medium/long trips. A trip that takes less than three days doesn't even count as a short trip.

  • Short trips--1 encounter
  • Medium trips--3 encounters
  • Long trips--5 encounters

Characters without mounts make a con save based on how rough the terrain is at the end, and have a level of exhaustion until they can rest up. Characters with especially fast mounts or transportation move the length of the trip down one category.

For each long trip (3 short trips = 1 long trip, 1 medium trip + 1 short trip = 1 long trip, etc.) add in a specifically giant centered encounter. Several areas have planned giant encounters, but its really easy to end up going a really long time without giants being a big deal, and that makes the threat feel less imminent.



Quest Givers

As written, there are several quest givers that ask the PCs to do a thing, and when they get there, or on the way, they run into the plot. The problem is, the plot is suppose to be threatening the North.  

There really needs to be more faction members or local NPCs that are handing out quests that actually have to do with the main plot. Storm King's Thunder starts to feel a bit like Skyrim, where there are plenty of things to do if you wander around the North, but if you ever want the players to see the plot unfold, it's easy to get lost in minutia.

Since I had a PC that was bethrothed to a half-giant, I made Harshnag her uncle, and brought him in a bit early to nudge the party towards the main plot, but as written, we could have ended up doing a lot of unrelated adventurer busy work. That's fine, if you don't want the giant threat to be a consistent theme, but it seems to leech some of the impact from the back half of the adventure.

The Uthgardt Mounds

In my campaign, the Uthgardt Mounds all incorporated the giant relics in a more obvious manner, instead of burying them. For some reason, having the PCs spend time digging in multiple places felt less exciting that noticing weird things incorporated into the altars or totems at the mounds. Your millage may vary.  

 

Changing the Climax

It really feels like the pacing of this adventure is based on King Hekaton disappearing, and giants running wild, and the PCs finding King Hekaton. But then the resolution is another chapter after King Hekaton's rescue, where the PCs fast forward across the entire North to engage in a short dungeon crawl in an abandoned city to kill a dragon that could teleport in one encounter but not in the final battle (there is a note that she's too proud to abandon her lair and will fight to the death here, but that seems out of place for how she's been portrayed up to this point).

Given that the Oracle can possibly reveal the main villain, and she's even given a specific bit of dialogue meant to allow the PCs to expose her in the throne room scene, it almost makes more sense to deal with her in that chapter. The final chapter already assumes the PCs will have giant allies, and the storm giant traitor angle plays better here, where Iymrith might end up with the two princesses AND a guard on her side. Just yank her ability to teleport, and come up with a plot reason that she can't use it in the throne room. I'd think an ancient storm giant fortress might be warded against such things, and the only access point would be where the conch shell delivers visitors. You might even make the fight with the dragon a race through the fortress to the one area not covered by the ward.

If she escapes, it almost makes more sense to play down her future threat to the giants. She's been exposed, they know what to look for, and the traitors in their midst have been uncovered. If they failed to pin her down and kill her, you can use her as a recurring villain in an ongoing campaign, but for this adventure, it feels like an epilogue.

Finding King Hekaton feels like the actual end of the adventure, and if I ran this again, I think I would shift things around to end on that note.

Clues

The Kraken Society isn't even really hinted at until you get to the last couple few chapters. That makes them feel a bit random. Seeding in their interest earlier would make sense.

By no means do I think this makes sense for every group, but when my adventurers visited Luskan the first time, they ran into Jarlaxle, who "gifted" them with some mercenaries to help them. Those mercenaries were suppose to feed him information, but were actually subverted spies by an illithid working for the Kraken Society.

My PCs got the idea that there was something more going on outside of the giants and the dragons, but they misdirected their attention to Jarlaxle's mercenaries. Even though it was a misdirect, it was a clue that there was another factor involved, and after the party sent an army of Treants to besiege Luskan to claim Jarlaxle's head (long story), Jarlaxle got to drop, at least a chapter earlier than in the adventure, that the Kraken Society had something to do with everything going on, and that his agents had been compromised.

Advancement

Depending on where they wander in this adventure, especially early on, leveling by normal XP awards may get tedious. I switched halfway through the campaign, but the milestone advancement felt a little at odds with the partial sandbox approach as well.

Had it been introduced earlier, the XP system recently introduced in Unearthed Arcana, on WOTC's D&D site, seems to be a really good fit for this campaign. Under that system, PCs are going to be getting XP for visiting important sites in the North, talking to NPCs relevant to the plot, and finding lost relics. If they have a stretch of running into goblins or kobolds randomly, but then happen on one of the Uthgardt mounds, they would still be keeping a steady advancement pace.



Would I Do It Again?

I really love the Savage Frontier as a setting. I really like giants as monsters. I would love to run this adventure again, with the tweaks I have in mind, for the right players, that are interested in exploring and engaging the setting. It's not the best adventure for people that are looking for discreet dungeons and a steady flow of action.

That said, I have so many games I want to run, I'm not sure I want to run it again with enough passion to displace some other adventure or game system on my list of things I want to run for the first time. 

 




Thursday, August 31, 2017

RPG a Day 2017--Day Thirty-one

Thirty-one days, finally complete. I'll be writing a kind of overview of this whole thing later on, when I have a chance to rest up a bit. It's kind of daunting coming up with something to say on every question for a month.

It's not just that not every question is exactly the kind of question that I would want to answer when talking about RPGs. It's knowing that I was holding myself to answer every single day, on time, for the whole month. And it looks like I managed to do it. I'm giving myself XP.

Anyway, let's look at the final question for the month.



What Do You Anticipate Most for Gaming in 2018?

I can't point to any one game or product. Sometimes I don't know about some of the most exciting products until a few months before they come out, and other times, the people putting out that game don't know if they are going to hit their target dates.

So rather than products, what I'm looking forward to the most for gaming in 2018 is the potential to hit some conventions.

In recent years I have only been able to go to my local convention, Winter War, in January in Champaign, Illinois. Its a good local convention that has its quirks, but its been the extent of my convention attendance.

I'm hoping to potentially hit Gamehole Con, and maybe Hero Con next year, and I really hope to run into some of the people that I have interacted with online, so that I can game with and/or talk to them in person.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day thirty

Day thirty. We're almost at the end.

What is an RPG Genre-Mash Up You Would Most Like to See



It is very hard to come up with genres that have not been mashed up in RPGs previously. Pick a genre. Pick another genre. There is probably a game at the intersection of those genres.

Steam-punk Mechwarrior? Modern day magic spies? Monster hunting spies? Old west/fantasy creatures? Muppets that fight each other in an ongoing war?

I'm defaulting to something I would love to do sometime if I ever find the time and talent to come up with a way to create it. I want to make a game about being a reporter in a world where there are super-hero rock stars, giant alien robots, high tech anti-terrorist teams, and monsters that live deep underground that invade the surface world.



I want the Hector Ramirez RPG.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-nine

Day twenty-nine.



What Has Been The Best Run RPG Kickstarter You Have Backed?

I can't speak to best run, because I don't know how organized or successful the numbers looked on the company side of things. From my perspective, as a backer, I can say that the return on investment that I got both for Fate Core and for Shadow of the Demon Lord made me feel like I owed both of those companies extra business, because I received so much from both of them.

Monday, August 28, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-eight

Day twenty-eight. If this were February, this would be the end of the month. Except once every four years. But still, really close. I wonder if Gen Con is in February in an alternate dimension, and if so, if this series of questions is also in that dimension, and also in February.

Have you ever noticed the more times you type the word February, the less it looks like you are spelling it correctly?

Where was I?



What Film Series is the Biggest Source of Quotes in Your Group?

Well, I have multiple groups. And it tends to vary. It's not uncommon for us to go off on a quote spree, but it is often set off by the specific game (or sometimes adventure) that we are playing. Star Wars, the Princess Bride, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are obvious ones over time, but lots of situational moments with other movies happen, and I can't possibly chart which ones happen most often.


I would have to say my group has a plethora of movie series quotes.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

RPG a Day 2017--Day Twenty-seven

Up to day twenty-seven. On the home stretch. Let's look at today's question.



What Are Your Essential Tools for Good Gaming?

 I'm not even sure how to answer this one. I mean, aside from the bare minimum you need to play the game (i.e. rules, players, dice if the game uses them, etc.), I'm not sure anything is essential. I have things that make me more comfortable, which vary from game to game.

If I had to say one modern "tool" that I use across multiple RPGs to good effect? Index cards.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-six

 RPG A Day, day twenty-six: we are running out of provisions, and the sharks are circling closer to the blog--wait, no, that's not right.



What RPG Provides The Most Useful Resources?

While it's not a universal requirement or practice for every game that has been based on the core engine, most Powered by the Apocalypse games provide incredibly useful resources to play the game.


Games that provide basic move sheets, playbooks, and GM sheets generally provide any reference you would need to run the game on a few sheets of paper, which makes running the actual game so much easier.

Friday, August 25, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-Five

Day twenty-five. This is the silver anniversary question, for those of you keeping track.

What is our silver question for today?

What Is The Best Way To Thank Your GM?



This feels a little self serving since I usually GM, but here's a list. It doesn't involve gifts, or snacks, or anything like that.


  • Give honest, constructive feedback
  • Communicate your intentions and work with them to tell a good story
  • Work with your fellow players to make sure your GM doesn't have to be the group therapist
  • If you can't make the game session, treat the game as a serious commitment and let them know as soon as you know you can't make it
In general, just remember that the GM often puts more effort into the game than the players, and treat the GM accordingly. 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-Four

Today, we reach day twenty-four of RPG A Day. I'm going to ask your forgiveness today. What is today's question?

Share A PWYW Publisher Who Should Be Charging More




I'm not shy about sharing RPG material that really impresses me. One of the reasons I started doing the reviews on the blog was to share my thoughts on products that I had purchased with other people. I love calling out the things that speak to me in the RPG industry. I love people that pour their heart and soul into games so that people can come together and share them.

I can't really drop everything and single out one publisher to single out. Further more, I can't speak to their pricing strategy. Some publishers charge PWYW for some products to get a set of rules into various people's hands so that they can sell additional supplements. Some people shared an item for free before they had a venue to host their product, and because it used to be free, they don't want to ask money for their product.

In many cases, it will make a person more money to charge a very small amount than it will to charge PWYW. As someone that has a couple items on the Dungeon Master's Guide, I can attest to this. When I was charging a couple of dollars for my stuff, I actually made money (very little, but some). Since I shifted my stuff to PWYW, a lot of people appreciate my generosity silently, and that's cool. I get it.

You have to charge what you want to charge. You have to have a strategy. I'll point you to people that I like, and if they happen to be posting a good product with a PWYW price, I'll encourage you to let them know what you think of their product with your dollars. But I'm not going to second guess a marketing strategy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-Three

So, we're up to day twenty-three of the RPG A Day questions.

What's today's questions?



Which RPG Has The Most Jaw-Dropping Layout?

A question with just a wee bit of hyperbole.

A lot of games spring to mind. Trying to figure out which game specifically jumps out, however, is really difficult. I love the Warhammer 40K RPGs, and the Midgard campaign setting books look amazing. I recently looked at Starfinder, and that's a really striking book.

But to me, layout is more than just "wow this looks cool." Some of that is art direction. Some of it is layout. But layout is also how the book is arranged and what that arrangement does for the reader.



Throwing that into the mix, I think I'll have to give the nod to the Cypher System games. The use of the sidebars to either define concepts used in the text, give summary stat blocks, or to give page references is very functional. The books also use quote boxes to call out the main concept being conveyed on a page, as well as using the traditional sidebars that are fairly common in other RPGs, and some amazing artwork.

I've seen a page with colors and art that really looked amazing. But when used effectively, good layout isn't really about dropping your jaw. It's about easing the cognitive load when using the book in question. At least to me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-Two

We're up to day twenty-two of the RPG A Day questions. so let's look at what our question is for today.

Which RPGs Are The Easiest For Your To Run?




Alright, fairly straightforward question, but with the zinger of implying more than one answer. I can do this. I've got this . . .

By no means does this question indicate that the games involved are easier games to run than other games. These are games that have a confluence of concepts and rules that I'm comfortable with, and themes that are imbedded in my brain.



With that out of the way, I'd have to say that it is fairly easy for me to fall into running a game of D&D 5th edition or Monster of the Week. Yes, those are two very different systems.

D&D 5th edition is easy for me to run because I can go through most of a session without looking at rules (not counting stat blocks). It reminds me a lot of AD&D 2nd edition, which I ran so much back in the day, and could quickly write up an outline of an adventure 10 minutes before a game and just look up stats in the Monster Manual.



In fact, 5th edition reminds me so much of those old days of D&D, it's actually tougher for me to run things like Storm King's Thunder, even though I'm running that so that I have an "end point" for the campaign. I mean, I can come up with individual adventures, but coming up with a satisfying ending for a campaign isn't always easy.

I've loved monster hunting media for so long that Monster of the Week just feels like home to me when I run it. I can draw on watching Ghostbusters when I was too young to get the Cthulhu homages, my 3,578 viewings of Fright Night*, watching X-Files, Buffy, Angel, the Ghost Whisperer, and 12 (!) seasons of Supernatural. There is just something fascinating to me about monster hunting as a sub-genre of horror. But I've gone on about that before.

Star Wars just barely misses this list, for one reason. I can come up with single missions or dungeons for D&D. I can come up with one mystery with a weird monster and a strange situation for the hunters to deal with for a one shot. I have a lot harder time telling one off stories in Star Wars without wanting to create more of a story arc. So it takes a little bit more effort.

Monday, August 21, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty-One

Only ten more of these to go!

Let's jump into question number twenty-one of RPG A Day, and that question is:

What RPG Does The Most With The Least Words?


This is a really difficult question. If definitely seems to lean towards asking "what short form RPG is technically complete but way shorter than most RPGs," but its not quite that specific.

I guess it would be tempting to just pick a very short indie game and point out some of the really amazing play experiences that those games provide.

I haven't played nearly enough of those games to be fair to any of them, and I feel more like leaning into "what strikes a balance between being a relatively short game, but with a satisfying amount of content that allows for a good amount of versatile playtime."

As an aside, I'm increasingly playing the side-game known as, "how much can Jared rephrase these things to answer a different question than the one asked."



On that note, I'm going to give the nod to Fate Accelerated, because it's a pretty powerful set of rules for the number of pages used to detail those rules.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twenty

Well. It's day twenty. I applaud anyone for coming up with 31 questions that don't look like the exact same 31 questions from the previous years. I respect that quite a bit. So, disclaimer in place, let's get to the answering.


What Is The Best Source For Out-Of-Print RPGs?

A few days back Brandes Stoddard made a comment about one of these questions feeling more like market research than an actual discussion question. That is exactly what this question feels like to me. As I said, I appreciate the effort it takes to make this list, but for some reason, this question really bugs me.

I'm not even saying it's a bad topic in some other context. It just feels really weird, when the rest of the questions circle around "what's you play experience," "what do you wish your play experience to be," "what games might you have in common with others," "what new games should people look at that they may not have seen yet," and then you get--"Hey, where should people shop?"

It's like getting into a discussion on dice probability in a given game system, and then having someone interject that the color of the dice is important, or discussing inspirational movies to watch for a genre, and having someone mention that they always drink Mountain Dew at the table.

So, I give my utmost respect to people trying to come up with 31 relatively new questions every August. That is awesome, and I love the conversation that these questions generate. Its just every once in a while, the conversation they generate in my mind is about the direction the questions have been going, and if they all fit into the same sphere of discussion.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Nineteen

Everybody's blogging for the weekend. Everybody needs a little question number nineteen. Oh yeah.

Hey, it's been nineteen days of trying to come up with opening comments. Sometimes you're going to leave the audience a little cold.



Anyway, our  question today is:

Which RPG Features the Best Writing?

This is a big huge gigantic question that can in no way be satisfactorily answered. Next question!

Okay, fine, I'll twist it a little.

Everybody that had the first edition AD&D books remembers Gygax's prose and dungeon master advice. What I had forgotten about, until I recently started reading through it again, was the tone of the Marvel Super Heroes game.



When I had only been exposed to very serious commentary on rules, Marvel Super Heroes talked to me, directly, as a gamer. It make jokes. It even admitted when it made bad jokes. It used the personalities of the characters in the setting to illustrate things, sometimes by having them introduce sections.

It was a neat change of pace, not just because of the tone, but because it felt so in tune with the Marvel comics of that era.

I don't know if it was the best, but it was probably the first time I noticed that you could tailor your writing both to engage your audience and to use the style of your rules presentation to elicit the feel of the setting you were emulating.


Friday, August 18, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Eighteen

It's Friday. It's time to get ready for the weekend. And what better way to get ready for the weekend than to talk about RPGs?

Today's question:

Which RPG Have You Played The Most In Your Life?




I am so boring and obvious.

Even if you broke this down by editions, I'm pretty sure D&D would win. Even if I didn't count my high school era gaming, I'm pretty sure this would win. The only really challenging thing would be if I tried to break down what edition I  played the most.



That would probably depend on if you lump Pathfinder into 3rd edition D&D, and if you count 3rd edition as one edition, or separate out 3.5.

If Pathfinder doesn't count, 2nd edition would probably win.



In my high school years, Marvel Super Heroes was a close second, even though reading through it recently made me realize that I just mentally shoved a few fairly important rules off to the side for years.

And to think, I was so sure I was done with D&D. Ah well. At least I have some variety in my gaming diet beyond only playing D&D.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Seventeen

It's Thursday, and what's more natural than the number 17 on a Thursday? I have no idea what that means either, but here's our next question.

What RPG Have You Owned the Longest and Not Played?




Ars Magica. As we speak, I've got two editions on my hard drive, and I haven't made it through either of them, let alone played them.

I heard about it a lot in the past. I was really curious about it. The setting and the campaign structure sounds fascinating. Every time I have sat down to read the book (any edition), I haven't been able to get into it.



I don't know why. It's not even the "this is like reading a math textbook" lack of ambition that struck me with Hero System. I just couldn't concentrate well enough to absorb what was in the book. At some point, I really need to make time and give it another  go.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Sixteen

Day sixteen of RPG A Day looms on the horizon, and the question it presents is--

Which RPG Do You Enjoy Using As Is?




I'm going to be a pain again, and say, "most of them."

That's not to say I don't like optional rules. I love the little rules widgets in the DMG, and the some of the optional rules that come up in the career books in Fantasy Flight's Star Wars games. The larger and more complex the rules set, the more likely I am to look at optional rules. But most of the time, I do want to get an impression of how the rules are suppose to work before I start tweaking.

This wasn't always the case. There are times I want to go back in time and slap myself silly over the way I ran 3.5. I had all kinds of houserules to try to evoke 2nd edition quirks here or there. I will say, compared to another GM that we had for our group, I have long had a deep and abiding love of campaign standards, so I wasn't making changes on the fly, only at the beginning of a campaign, or when we had a natural break where I could poll my players and ask "hey, how does this sound when we start back up?"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Fifteen

Almost at the halfway point for RPG A Day. Today's question is:

Which RPG Do You Enjoy Adapting the Most?




Time to engage the wet blanket mode!

I don't. I mean, I've posted a lot of things on this blog adding in house rules or tweaking things, but if the question means something like "I like using 5th edition D&D to run a Japanese tea ceremony based diplomatic game" or something of that nature, I don't really want to do that. I like playing too many different games to do that.

More robust rules systems usually have room to tinker. I've definitely worked with ways to make movement more about narrative position than tactical, for example. But that's still trying to use similar technology while staying as true to the original concept of the rules as I can.

I'll be honest--I'm more likely to use things like the Fate Toolkit to modify an existing setting than I am to try and come up with a setting from scratch, even collaboratively. I just like having a strong concept in place before I start to tinker with it.

So I don't really enjoy adapting RPGs. Sorry about that.

Monday, August 14, 2017

RPG a Day 2017--Day Fourteen

Up to day fourteen of RPG a Day, and here is today's question:

Which RPG Do You Prefer For Open-Ended Campaign Play?




Well, this is awkward.

I don't prefer open-ended campaign play very much these days. Because I like campaigns to have satisfactory endings, and I like to play a wide variety of games, I tend to run games in "seasons" these days.



Part of why I prefer this style now is that in the past, I had so many games that just drifted off, and it felt like I let down the people playing. Being able to run a 9 to 12 session "season" of a campaign, knowing that we completed a large story arc and may come back to these characters, feels a lot more satisfactory.



Now, if we twist this question, just a bit, and turn it into "what RPG do you prefer for open-ended play," meaning, "I don't prep anything and let the game develop when I start running each session," then I'm going to go with World Wide Wrestling. While I might play on feuds that started in other sessions, or reference events that happened in other games, I never start booking matches until we sit down at the table, and I often have the players do some "outside the episode" scenes from The Road supplement to help shape what's going to happen for the night.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

RPGaDay 2017--Day Thirteen

Time for lucky number 13--the day thirteen question for RPG A Day this year. That question happens to be:

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.




Totally not a question, but we've gone down this route before . . . 😉

Now, to get a bit more serious about the question. I think the first experience that fits the description that springs to mind is when I first started running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

I think it is safe to say that most of the games I had played up to that time were designed to emulate living in a given genre, rather than the genre itself. The rules were used to model the world, and you were encouraged to think and make decisions based on how you would if you were a person living in that world

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying encouraged thinking about the narrative of comics. Not acting the way you would if you had Peter Parker's powers, but thinking of how Spider-Man would react in a given scene to make that scene feel the way it did in the comics in which the character has been featured.

You were still playing a role, and making decisions for the character, but you were doing so in a manner that was much more conscious of the genre and its tropes, and the game rewarded you for playing to the tropes.

Not only did I really enjoy running Marvel Heroic, but it was the first time that I ran a game online for people I had not met. Running Marvel Heroic for the first time got me back into running games at conventions, because I had a rekindled urge to play with new people that I had never met, and it helped me to better understand more narrative games, like Fate and Powered by the Apocalypse games.

And it all goes back to that first session of Breakout that I ran all those years ago.


Sailing the 7th Sea--My 7th Sea One Shot (8-12-2017)

I took to heart the advice I got about running a 7th Sea game to see how it worked at the table. I got in contact with a few of my friends from games that I have run in the past, most recently my Monster of the Week campaign (and also D&D Adventurers League). Upon contacting my friends to see if they would be up for a one shot of the game, my friend actually found a coworker that had playtested the game when it was Kickstarting, and she wanted to know if she could play as well. That brought me up to five players.

The new FLGS is located in a mall, and they have permission to run events in the hallway outside of the store. Since there was a Warhammer 40K tournament today, we got to play out in the hall. It was actually kind of fun. We had two tables next to the food court, and it was actually more comfortable than trying to squeeze into the store.



Our Characters

I wanted to make sure that the players had a chance to make up characters, so we started earlier than I normally would. I printed out character sheets and a cheat sheet for each of the players. The team we ended up with consisted of the following heroes:

Ashleigh Winters, Avalon Duelist/Knight Errant

William of Lochlarn, Highlander Bard/Seanchaidh

Felix, Montaigne Criminal/Orphan

Ivan Markevich, Ussura Cossack/Farm Kid

Karen Wolfke,  Eisen Mercenary/Monster Hunter

One one hand, people picked a wide range of national origins, which could have made getting them together tough. No one really wanted to go with the "shared secret society" angle, either. Thankfully, the stories of multiple characters allowed for some interaction and some guidance on how to get the team together. I decided to run an opening scene with each character to get them to Avalon, where Ashleigh was already waiting for them. William had met Ashleigh before, and because of some imagined slight, he wishes to duel Ashleigh, but Ashleigh won't agree to it. Because of that, William is following Ashleigh around until he convince him to duel.

Felix is a thief that travels from place to place looking for a score, ostensibly to steal from the rich and give to the poor, but often becoming too tempted with wealth to do the last part of his initial plan. Ivan accidentally defected from the Ussuran military by boarding the wrong ship. I honestly loved his story, which he named "Accidental Deserter," which requires him to make it home to Ussura to explain how he got on the wrong ship.



Opening Scenes

William started out running from members of another Highland clan, who were convinced he had stolen their horse. This impression was bolstered by the fact that the horse's livery had the other clan's symbols all over it. William spun his horse around, drove hard between them, then jumped across a ravine to escape them, driving hard for Carleon.

Felix got a tip on how to break into a Montaigne expatriate's house in Carleon, and in the course of breaking in, Felix found some strange papers along with the jewelry he had hoped to score. Upon seeing watchmen on the street below, Felix knocked out the captain with his sack of treasure, then took out the rest, and lifted a pass that the watch captain had, allowing him access to restricted parts of the city.

Ivan was on a ship sailing out of Vesten, hoping to convince his hosts to drop him off somewhere that would allow him to make his way home. When a storm blew up, Ivan's ship seemed to be hundreds of miles off course, with a broken mainmast, about to slam into a cliffside. Through a major feat of strength, Ivan held up the broken mast long enough for the crew to steer away from the cliffs, and the ship sailed into the nearest port, which was, impossibly, Carleon.

Karen was travelling with a Vaticine priest that was helping her hunt monsters, and when he died, he asked for her to return his body to Carleon, where most of his family lived. Because of the curse laid on the priest, he may rise as an unquiet spirit if the wake isn't performed properly, so she had to find an officiant, the proper venue, and invite his family. She managed to find the venue and officiant, but failed to invite his family members. The priest's spirit was laid to rest, but a minor curse of bad luck fell upon his family, which she now feels compelled to lift. She began to research where all of his family members were located to help them.

Ashleigh was being questioned about indiscretions related to Lady Ashmore while Ashleigh was on his last mission. He managed to talk his way out of trouble, and was given the mission to board the Silver Starlight, a merchant vessel plying the Montaigne straights, to investigate why ships had been disappearing in the straights, leaving no signs of being wrecked or scuttled.

Out On The Streets

Ashleigh walked out of his hearing, near the docks, at which point William found him and challenged him to a duel. Ashleigh told William that he had important business, but they could conclude things later. William threw a fit, and attracted attention of from Ivan, Felix, and Karen.

Hearing about the disappearing ships, Karen wanted to investigate possible ghost ships. William, who was extremely skeptical of the supernatural, laughed off the notion. Felix decided to join the investigation because the papers he stole from the Montaigne expatriate mentioned payments that indicated that the disappearance of the ships were related to some kind of payment to the expatriate. Ivan just wanted to talk to someone in authority to ask for a ride home.

Ashleigh told Captain Chelin of the Silver Starlight that the rest of the heroes were his cohort for the investigation, but since William had bargained his own way onto the ship, he allowed William to be put to work as a hand on the ship.

Dinner Time

The party was invited to dine with Captain Chelin, except for William, who was sent to serve the party in the captains quarters. After introductions, the first mate brought word that a strange ship was seen on a parallel course to the Silver Starlight. Karen and Ivan raced each other up to the crow's nest, Felix stole a spyglass, and Ashleigh politely thanked the captain for dinner before stealing Felix's spyglass back from the thief.

The ship in the distance was the Vile Lass, an lost Montaigne pirate ship. On the deck was a pale man in out of fashion captain's gear, with glowing red eyes. The group also spotted a strange, small island that doesn't appear on any charts.

The team headed to the mysterious small island to investigate, while staying away from the circling Vile Lass. On the island, the group found that the ground was oddly spongy, and beneath what appeared to be rocks and soil was grey sludge of some kind. At this point, another much more fashionable dressed Montaigne ripped a hole in reality with Porte magic, and expressed surprise at the people on "his" island.

After getting bashed in the head with a barrel and stabbed by Ashleigh, the Porte sorcerer opened more screaming wounds in reality, dumping masses of tentacles and eyes onto the island. Karen and Felix both fell through the crust into the island, into the grey sludge. The Porte using Montaigne left before anyone could assault him further, leaving the heroes to deal with his tentacled masses.

Ivan turned into a bear using his native sorcery and saved Felix from the tentacled horror, after Karen "saved" him by throwing him clear of the sludge. Eventually the creatures were dispatched, but William decided the small island, devoid of caves, must have had a bear living on it, and wondered where Ivan went.

Ship to Ship

The Vile Lass closed on the Silver Starlight, and after a quick conference and work from the ship's surgeon, the heroes attempted to board the Vile Lass before she began to open fire on the Silver Starlight.

Ivan swung across into the gun wells of the Vile Lass, while Karen and Ashleigh swung across to the deck, and Felix waited until the ships got close enough for him to jump across without a rope. Karen and Ashleigh barreled into a deck full of skeletons forming into crew.

Under the decks, ghostly crew members loaded cannons to fire at the Silver Starlight. Ivan moved one of the cannons so that it fired across to take out the other cannons. He then waited for the ghosts to light the cannon again, and aimed it at the deck of the ship.

Ashleigh and Karen finished off the skeletal crew, and as William charged across the deck, he wondered how the captain animated the skeletons to scare off his victims--probably wires of some sort. William then charged the captain, while Felix crept up behind him. Ashleigh and Karen engaged the spectral captain from the front.

Surrounded, the captain lashed out, primarily at Karen and her special sword, glowing in the presence of the supernatural. The captains sword was covered in frost as he attempted to freeze the monster hunter, but the heroes managed to hold him off long enough for Karen to put her pistol under his chin, pull the trigger, and when his head started to reform, she ran her monster slaying blade through his body, causing him to fall into a pile of clothing, devoid of captain.

Felix stole a strange compass from the captain's body, which looked much like the compass held by the Porte mage on the strange island. Ivan's work below decks caused the ship to sink, and the heroes crossed back over to the Silver Starlight, watching the ship dissolve into mist as it broke apart. William decided that the supernatural is extremely unlikely, but perhaps a few people still make unholy bargains with Legion that pay off.



Meta-Knowledge

This session went really well. I didn't prepare anything, other than to have cheat sheets ready to remind me of rules without looking them up, and to give me some hints at scene structure. Once the characters had stories in place, I put together the outline of a plot for the session.

I allowed Karen a Dracheneisen sword as a special item, even though it was a bit much for a Signature Item, but this was potentially a one shot, and she agreed that if we ever moved to a long term campaign with the same character, she would rework this part of the character.

The story that William's player wrote was to gain Comaraderie once he realizes he doesn't want to kill Ashleigh. I love that story. I also love that Ivan is attempting to get the title of "Trustworthy" by returning home to explain his accidental desertion. Felix is going to accidentally get a reputation for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, despite not actually following through on the second part. He's going to accidentally help out repeatedly. I loved that I could dive straight in to Karen's past with her priest friend in the intro. The stories gave me a lot to work with.

I was surprised that, as soon as I explained the "I Fail" mechanic, I had multiple players volunteering to fail to see how the mechanic looked. It was a great show of trust and enthusiasm for seeing what I would do with the mechanic.

I had a lot of fun coming up with Opportunities, although I started one scene without establishing consequences or coming up with Opportunities, but it happened less often than I thought it would. A few times I let people do a little too much with their raises at one time, but after allowing it, I mentioned that I should have split the different actions into different parts of the round, and everyone understood. It didn't happen too often, but at least twice.

I'm definitely looking into finding a way to fit a regular 7th Sea game into my schedule after this session.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Twelve

I'm running behind, so it's time to play catch-up. We are up to day twelve of the RPG A Day questions, and today's question is as follows:

Which RPG Has the Most Inspiring Interior Art?



Tough question. Most RPGs from at least a moderate sized company have very talented art directors, with a crew of talented artists to draw from. I think that, first off, I'm going to exclude anyone that uses existing artwork from other sources. That means things like DC Adventures is out the running, because while the art is inspiring, it's also directly from the source material. It still takes a good eye to format the art, and a strong sense of what is needed to choose the right existing art, but it feels like a different "category" than we are discussing here.



I'm not going to say that this is the "most" of anything, because there are too many games out there. I will say that Headspace was very striking to me. Brian Patterson's artwork does an amazing job of portraying nuance within a comic strip style of art. The characters in the book are in a terrible cyberpunk world that has suffered criminal abuse from corporations, but the operators still have a certain determination that conveys the feel of fighting a difficult uphill battle to make the world better, but believing that battle can be won.



The contrast between the setting, and the goals of the operators, and the combination as expressed in the illustrations, make this a product I wanted to call out.

Friday, August 11, 2017

RPG A Day 2017--Day Eleven

One and one makes eleven. Well, I mean, it can. Not when you add them. That would be two. But you knew that. Regardless, it's day eleven of the RPG a Day challenge, and our question today is:

Which "Dead Game" Would You Like to See Reborn?



We live in an era where dead games don't stay dead for very long, and where, if you can't find the game in print, you might be able to find a retro-clone that is fairly close to that game.

For the purpose of this question, I'm going to assume that the "reborn" game is official, meaning that not only is there a game similar to the original game available, but any IP associated with that game is brought back to life as well.



If I add all of that together, I think I'm going to lean heavily towards Star Frontiers. In my early gaming career, Star Frontiers came in third place, behind D&D and Marvel Super Heroes. But it was a really close third.

Additionally, Star Frontiers is one of the few games I managed to run for my older sister (she from whom I stole my D&D Basic set back in the day).



I liked a lot of the setting elements and new equipment that showed up in the Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space, but the new resolution system introduced seemed to kill interest in the game with my limited group of gamers in my youth.

I know there is a new retro-clone on the way for a Star Frontier's experience, but I'd love to have an official way to run a group of Pan Gal troubleshooters on a mission to undermine the Sathar.