Variations of the theme

Of course, the theme here is gaming, but some games deviate from what’s expected. Typically, a game has someone nominated to run it, and people to play. This was how the hobby was born, and has largely carried on. Things have changed though.

There are games written that use no dice. This is waaay different from what things started as. There are games that have no central Game Master, or anything similar. There are games that are designed to operate in specific venues, like PbP, and the list goes on.

Basically, games have evolved. This is inherently a good thing. I spend time scouring message boards, reading articles, and what not to learn more about the hobby I love. Frankly, i have yet to run out of stuff to read. In addition, I have yet to stop being surprised at how people have managed to innovate within the hobby.

Just today I saw a Kickstarter campaign for an omnibus edition of GM-less games. The idea of something like this would have been kind of unthinkable decades ago, but not it seems like a great step forward. Even the idea that the Kickstarter should contain multiple games is in and of itself quite impressive.

The ideas here make note of just a few possible ways games have changed over time. Basically, the central feature of the game, the collaborative story, has retained its place. However, the manner in which the story can be told has more options than ever before.  Roll for initiative (or not depending on the game!) and see what some of the options offer.

Learning a new game

I’m staying with this topic for the second day because I wanted to focus on it more. I feel like learning a new game isn’t just about fleshing out the character sheets. Its a time committment, and understanding how the game is made possible.

At the moment, I’m learning how to play Savage Worlds, the core edition for the generic game. I’ll be playing a private investigator named Sal Malo. The purpose of the game is simply to throw dice.

Still, I can’t help but try to flesh out how the character should fit the game. There’s no actual story yet, and I’m trying to hash out, “OK, is this like a crime noir story? Is my character going to have to be some kind of tough guy, or what?”

The actual numbers from the dice haven’t really factored in, but that’s not because I’m all that concerned about them. Truth be told, in any game, the numbers on the character sheet shouldn’t be the primary concern.

Frankly, its weird to walk around thinking, “character has a strength of …, so therefore I can…,” to a certain extent, I get this. In a TTRPG, its normal. You almost have to do it, but the character is more than those numbers. In D&D, alignment is an underutilized aspect of character creation. When moral dilemmas arise in the game, how would that individual respond? Often it’s the player that takes up the call, but it shouldn’t be.

Ultimately, as the game unfolds these kinds of issues should resolve themselves, but initially there are things that need to be considered that people may overlook. Learning how to play a new game isn’t just about learning a new mechanical system. It is very much about learning how to use that mechanical system to bring your character to life.

Learning new games

If the RPG hobby is good for one thing, it’s that there is no shortage of options. Over the decades since its birth, the hobby has really expanded quite considerably. Once I made the decision to pick the hobby back up, I couldn’t believe the diversity and quality that had arisen while I was away. There is simply an extraordinary amount of content available.

At the moment, I make use of a play-by-post (PbP) site for my RPG needs. Since I have a really busy schedule its hard to have a static group to play games with. PbP suits my needs very well, but it affords me an unexpected boon. I get to play lots of new games.  There always seems to be someone curious about this or that system, and I’m happy to be able to join in these games. I’ve probably learned more about gaming this way than I had in the years previously. Sadly though, I don’t ever get a chance to go really in-depth with my games. Such is life.

For example, I am at the moment finally getting to learn how to run Savage Worlds. I’m psyched. I’ve been curious about this game for a long time, and now I’m finally going to learn it. Also, it’s a chance to get experience with a generic RPG system which is something I don’t have much knowledge of.

While its true that this stuff is a committment, at the same time, it’s a committment I’m willing to make. I like learning new games. Like most gamers I feel like I’m always on the search for that “perfect” game. There’s just so much possibility for innovation though it seems like there’s no end to what can be done. It’s a great time to be a gamer.

Can one game be re-skinned?

What I’m really asking with that title is, can one game be re-worked to accomodate multiple genre concepts? I’d argue yes, and AD&D 2e kind of proved this.

All fo the different settings for 2nd Edition really showed how the game can be set up to accommodate a variety of things. It ranged from medieval fantasy to horror to sci-fi, and it was always the same game. That’s actually pretty impressive, but that shows that a mechanical system doesn’t need to be designed to specifically encompass.

That doesn’t mean problem aren’t evident. For example, a game is designed to encompass specific ideas and concepts. The mechanics are conceived to help make all of this function in a way that gives the credibility to the ideas. In and of itself, this aspect of designing a game is limiting. Overcoming this, while not impossible, is a difficult challenge.

D&D didn’t really overcome this obstacle. Instead, it published settings that could fit the fantasy mold it operated within, while simultaneously introducing radically new ideas. Ravenloft and Spelljammer really stand out in this respect. These settings made horror and sci-fi possible for a game that was, according to its creators, intended to be modeled on pulp fantasy novels. This never really stopped being the case, but the game made it possible to have vampire kingdoms alongside ray-gun wielding space aliens. It’s a bit gonzo, but the settings made it work.

In any game, this sort of thing is possible, but the ultimate issue is always that one must overcome the limitations of the mechanical system. The system was designed to operate a certain way, and that won’t every change. However, it doesn’t mean don’t have fun with it. D&D did, and it gave a multitude of brilliant settings. This could be you.

RPGaMonth has friends

Since starting this RPG blog, I’ve found a couple RPG-centric game ideas. There is the “month of RPG”, and “Read an RPG in public” challenge. I like that both of these exist, although I’m not really making it a point to participate in either one.

The month of RPG is fun because it asks that people respond to a series of RPG related questions. Nothing is to in-depth, but it does ask that you stop and think about a lot of what you’re answering. Questions like, “What game would like to be playing most?” I know the answer for myself, 13th Age, but it’s not the same for everyone. Because this stuff pops up in social media, the responses are searchable, as well as worth the read. These kinds of things are interesting to me, because it’s a way to learn more about a hobby I already enjoy immersing myself in.

The second challenge, reading RPG in public is very interesting. The people behind this want to raise the profile of RPGs, and so have set up a challenge to get people to read them in public. I’m all for this, although I haven’t done it. Mostly just because the stuff I read on my commutes tends to be fiction, or is an RPG product in a PDF file. However, I think helping to promote the hobby is a good idea. People should be reading the books in public. Why not? A book is a book, and this hobby needs to shed its stigma.

All in all, I think these challenges are good because they help the hobby grow. Seeing stuff like this tells me that people want to talk about, and interact not just with the games, but with other gamers. I hope to see this trend grow as the hobby does.

Nerdrage

Nerd rage is for the birds. It’s a pointless phenomenon. I see a lot of it being tossed around right now because of the upcoming Pathfinder 2nd Edition.  It is common, but oh, so much petty bickering.

See, I believe edition changes are a part of the hobby. No game is perfect, and the people who design them know this. Thus, every so often enough rules errata builds up and the game can be re-born, as it should be. People see the frayed edges, and know the game to need tinkering.

As Jason Buhlman, Pathfinder’s lead designer put it, cumbersome rules are cumbersome no matter how well you know them. (Paraphrased). He’s absolutely right. He’s being sympathetic to complaints people have made about Pathfinder’s rules.

Where I always end up frustrated is having to sort out the angst about different editions. Like honestly, who gives a shit? If you like a game, play the damn game. You’re not obligated to buy into something just because it’s new.

I like nWoD, but not the 2nd Edition of it. I like the 1st edition better, but it’s for completely philosophical reasons. It has nothing to do with the mechanics, or being too complex/not complex enough. Yet, my opinion is my own. The 2nd Edition of WoD was well-received when it was released, and why not? I’m sure it’s a lot of fun.

I’m not the measuring stick by which to judge attitudes towards one edition as opposed to another one. I’m just posting this to show that there can be reasons for not liking an edition of a game, without the stupid flame wars (do people even use that term anymore?) on message boards about the quality of a TTRPG. ok, rant over. Go forth and be merry.

Traits of a great game

Let’s be clear, there is no “one true game”. Everyone has their own preferences and tastes. Gaming is like anything else in this respect. That being said, I think there are aspects that make a great game. The ones that really standout have a special something that people really gravitate towards.

(Since this is a fairly large issue, I’m going to break this up a bit, and just focus on one little thing.)

For me, one thing I like in a game is one that doesn’t promote buying a ton of books. This is always something that makes me smile. A game that is just one book? Sign me up! I love this feature of gaming. I hate it when designers structure things around purchasing multiple books. It’s just really frustrating.

One my absolute favorite games is definitely 13th Age. The system rocks, and really, all you need is the core book. Absolutely nothing else is required. The core book has all of the rules for the game.

The Basic Fantasy RPG is another great example of this approach to writing an RPG manual. There are other examples as well, but the two presented here are ones I’ve actually played. I can say that they are both robust and quality systems. (The PDF of Basic Fantasy is free!)

What gets included into a book is just one thing to consider, but for me, its super important. I hate having shell out a ton of money to get a full experience for a game. I know it’s a business, but if the product is quality people will buy it.

When games branch out…

 

Something that has often intrigued me is how intellectual properties branch out into our formats. This is especially true of RPGs. Books, movies, and art are examples of how the hobby has left its roots as a game. The book aspect of it is pretty interesting, because there is a ton of fiction dedicated to games. Some D&D novels just refuse to die, and let’s be honest, it’s not like they’re great literature. Yet, like all other forms of art, they inspire the readers.

I fully admit to having a collection of D&D novels. I haven’t read them in a while, but I have a special place in my heart for the old Ravenloft series of books. I can very clearly remember how stunned I was to read the dark fantasy/horror take on the game I loved. It blew my teenage mind, because it was the first time I’d read horror that resonated with me.

And that’s why this stuff won’t die. It matters to the readers. It’s nice, sure, but it means something special to the people who enjoy it. You could say this about just about anything, but with the games, having that immersive experience brought to life in different ways is cool. I mean, you all sit around and talk about it at the table while throwing dice.

Having the stories, or the art, or the movies is a way to bring the tales to life in completely different ways. I love how the games can inspire people, and I often look forward to reading gaming novels. If you’ve never tried one, well, head on down to library. They probably have a few.

Edition changes

So, I’m still working on processing the newly announced Pathfinder 2nd Edition. The game seems set for a major mechanical overhaul. I’m intrigued as to how they’re going to pull this off.

My interest to see the execution comes from the fact that Pathfinder has become a very mechanically driven game. I don’t know if it started that way, but it feels like the underlying principles rule the game in very impressive way. While narrative and story-telling always have a place, the actual mechanical system is what makes it go.

You could make this argument for any game, really, but because Pathfinder favored highly determined rules, the game itself had a different kind of complexity. All of this though is based heavily on the mechanical system driving the game.

On one hand, the game itself has an incredible amount of depth. The level of nuance and subtlety characters can be built with has always been one of the game’s strongest points. Who knows where these kinds of things end up through an overhaul.

On the other hand, the can be a grind. While I love the game for the scale of what can be packed into a session fairly comfortably, there have been times where running it has been a real challenge. This has been especially prevalent during combat and character creation.

For combat, there is this constant need to engage in petty rules-lawyering to eke out the greatest possible bonuses, and what not. This is annoying as hell. Unfortunately, because this is how the game is written (with lots of bonuses and modifiers), the system can be hard to manage. Also, during character creation, I constantly have people looking to optimize their characters, rather than creating a fictitious persona in the game world. Rather than, “I’m an orphan seeking revenge on the cruel merchant tat burned down my home and killed my parents,” there is the need to have players creating character designed along the lines of, “I want my character to be able to dominate the field of combat.” This second point is extremely uninteresting, but very common in Pathfinder.

Now that a new edition is coming out, ti will be interesting to see how the game designers try and harmonize these different issues. Can the good and the bad be rectified? Tie will tell, but I think the answer is largely, “yes.” What the final product looks like is anyone’s guess, but I’m excited for what the game will be able to do.

Generic RPG systems

Today I was walking home, and stopped in a gaming store. I’d been there before, so I already knew what kind of product they stocked. However, today I saw that they had copies of Genesys from Fantasy Flight Games.

I don’t really have a lot of experience with generic RPGs, but I’ve been increasingly curious. Have an elastic mechanical system to apply to games as I see fit just seems too good to pass up. I’ve looked at a couple of different ones, and have heard excellent reviews of FATE and Savage World, but seeing as how Genesys is the system for the extremely popular Star Wars game, I’m very intrigued.

I’ve yet to hear anything from people who have tried, but I’m keep an ear to the ground. Oddly enough, I rarely hear of people who play generic systems as is. Usually, it’s a modified version that is used to accommodate a certain genre or concept. I wonder about the experience of just playing normal people, like in a thriller. I feel like a generic system would be really good for this, but still allow for other types of game experiences as well.

I’d love to see a series of side-by-side reviews of generic RPGs. I just don’t have enough experience with them to evaluate the systems comparatively. There’s so many, and it’s hard to know which one would be just out-and-out quality. It is, however, an excuse to do more gaming. And let’s be honest, more gaming is almost always a good thing.