August 16, 2017

RPGaDay Question #16

Question #16: Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

In spite of my penchant for being a tinker-monkey, there's actually quite a few RPGs that I enjoy playing or running "as is."

One of the more recent ones is 7th Sea 2nd edition.  There's so much freedom for the GM to run things with the rules that one doesn't really need to "tinker" with it.  Heck, I could probably run a lengthy and successful campaign using just material from the core rulebook, and never run out of options for players, either in things to do or ways to advance their characters.  Granted, the system takes a little getting used to, especially wrapping one's head around the "roll then move" approach that it takes versus the "move then roll" approach that is the industry standard.

Another RPG that I can easily run or play as-is would be FFG's Star Wars RPG.  With the exception of one minor rule in the combat section, I really don't have any glaring issues with how the system works.  While I agree that starship combat is its issues, notably the propensity for "rocket tag" if the PCs are in starfighters, over all it's pretty solid, and at thus far has yet to fall prey to the "Force users are overpowered!" issue that's plagued pretty much every other Star Wars RPG, be it official or a system hack of some type.

A third RPG that I've mostly enjoyed playing as written is The One Ring by Cubicle 7.  I pretty much grew up with Tolkien's works, and this RPG does a pretty solid job of delivering the Middle Earth experience as the Professor described in his writings.  I did get to play a fairly short-lived campaign, taking up the role of a Barding Warden with our company mostly playing through The Marsh Bell and a bit of the Tales from the Wilderland before ending abruptly due to over half the group forgotten this wasn't D&D and that getting into fights could be extremely dangerous.

And lastly, there's Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition.  Frankly, that game is so flexible in terms of what a character can be built to do that there's really no need to introduce a plethora of house rules.  The fact I'm in a group that is currently comprised of a Golden Age Superman, a pastiche of Spider-Man, a quasi-ninja with shadow powers, and a flying version of Frozen's Elsa, and each of us is capable of pitching in during just about any sort of encounter just goes to how versatile the system is in the hands of a skilled GM.  And luckily, we've got a very skilled GM in the form of Eric running out MnM3e campaign.  As much as I'm enjoying Curse of Strahd, I can't want to get back to our Emerald City campaign.

That pretty much wraps it up for today's answer, so check in tomorrow for the answer to #17.

August 15, 2017

RPGaDay Question #15

Question #15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I think it's safe to say that I've tinkered with or "adapted" just about every RPG I've played in some form or another.

As a self-professed "tinker monkey" when it comes to RPGs, I like mucking around with the system in various ways, introducing various house rule ideas to see what works, what doesn't, and perhaps most importantly why it does or doesn't work.

In terms of sheer volume of system tinkering that I've done, I'd probably say that WotC's various d20 Star Wars games take the cake.  For its flaws, the d20 engine does permit for a whole lot of customization, tweaking a whole mess of things to deliver whatever sort of game experience the GM and players enjoy.  I think the enduring popularity of Pathfinder is a testament to that, as they're still riding the 3.X gravy train long after WotC moved on to other iterations of d20.

I've also enjoyed playing around with ideas and concepts for FFG's Star Wars RPG, although the amount of "new material" I've created has been substantially less.  I think one of the biggest contributions that I made was the tandem effort between myself and Ben "Cyril" Erickson with the Unofficial Species Menagerie, which we first created way back in the days of the Edge of the Empire Beta, mostly as a way to give players viable options for species outside of the eight introduced in the EotE Beta rulebook.  In hindsight, we probably could have gotten a lot more daring than we did, but it was a new system and both of us were still in the learning curve of what was balanced and what went too far.  It's been interesting to see how FFG has approached a number of these species, and seeing where they diverge from what we did.

One fairly recent bit of system adapting I tried my hand was for 7th Sea, that being the conversion of a slew of 1e Swordsman Schools into 2e Duelist Styles.  I probably spent more time that I really needed to on that one, mostly out of an effort to avoid falling into the ever-present trap of creating home-brew material that was vastly more powerful than the official stuff.  Granted, I started this project even before the 7th Sea core rulebook was officially released (perks of being a Kickstarter back), mostly as a way to broaden the number of options available for characters.  I didn't wind up trying to adapt all of the 1e Swordsman Schools, as some of them were so unusual or out of place as a "dueling" style that it didn't seem applicable.

As for the idea of shoehorning an existing system to make it work for another setting, I'd have to say I'm generally not a fan of such an approach.  I know there are folks that love using FATE Core for pretty much everything, and I've lost track of the numerous different attempts people have made to run Star Wars in their preferred system de jour, but for me a lot of them just fell flat.  That being said, I have to give kudos to Green Ronin for in their efforts to make Mutants and Masterminds be able to replicate the sort of antics we see in various comic books, they wound up creating an RPG that can indeed be adapted to just about any sort of genre and still work as intended.  Back during the 2e days, I used MnM2e to create a bunch of characters from the Danny Phantom cartoon series (it was really good, but sadly got shafted by Nickelodeon, especially its third season), with Danny himself turning out to be a serious powerhouse for a PL9 hero.  I also used MnM2e to do character builds of characters from the Final Fantasy series (specially 7, 8, and 10) and Kingdom Hearts (dear lord Sora was a beast for being PL10/150 points), as well as the named characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender as of the conclusion of the second season.  For a while, the Atomic Think Tank (Green Ronin's official Mutants & Masterminds forum) was chock full of folks using the system to create heroes and villains of numerous genres, and none of them really felt out of place in a game about superheroes.   Sadly, Green Ronin's forums have turned into a cesspit full of bile and resentment, with a lot of posters suffering from entitlement about how they're not getting the products they feel they deserve (this was especially true with Dragon Age and the third box set, an issue that was completely out of Green Ronin's hands due to the approvals being held up on BioWare's end).

Come back tomorrow to see which RPG I actually enjoy using "as is" without tinkering around with it.

August 14, 2017

RPGaDay Question #14

Question #14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Huh, this is a bit of a tough one, as I generally don't do a lot of "open-ended" campaign play these days.  As a GM, I'm not that great at running truly "open-ended" campaigns as I prefer my campaigns to have a definite starting and ending point.  That's not to say I'd be adverse to returning to a previously ended campaign, but that would be a new and separate story arc as opposed to an ever-continuing one.

Back in the day, I had what I guess you could call an open-ended campaign in the form of a long-running WEG Star Wars campaign that went across generations, starting out in the early days of the Galactic Civil War, then after a while skipping ahead a generation with the players taking the roles of the children of their previous characters, and then after a bunch of sessions jumping ahead another generation to take up playing the grandkids.  It ran for quite a while before the group in general kind of got tired of it and we at last put the campaign to bed.  It was fun, and I wound up coming up with a lot of stuff that in hindsight makes me cringe, but it wasn't as out there as some of the stuff that authors came up with for the New Jedi Order or other Legacy series, but like I said it was a lot of fun.

Now a days, I'd probably go with Green Ronin's Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition for an open-ended campaign as the way it operates you can very easily have a PC whose Power Level never really increases beyond their starting point but still be effective, with their experience being spent not to boost their main abilities but instead to broaden their capabilities.  Which is not unlike how the main heroes in most comic books tend to operate, especially Marvel.  Tony Stark might constantly tweak and upgrade his Iron Man suits, but they generally have the same set of powers, often with broader range of effects, and Spider-Man is pretty much the same wise-cracking webslinger in terms of his powers.

Another viable choice would probably be FFG's Star Wars RPG, since there's almost always something for your character to spend their XP on, especially if you're a Force user.  And with the way specializations and talent trees operate, you can have characters with hundreds if not thousands of XP that aren't grossly overpowered, but instead becoming broadly competent in a breadth of different areas.

Yet another possible choice would be John Wick Presents' 7th Sea 2nd edition.  With a character's advancement tied to Stories, be it personal or GM-based, there's not really any such thing as forgettable XP awards, as each Story a Hero completes allows them to grow and develop.  As long as the GM and the players can keep coming up with fun and interesting Stories, I could see a campaign of 7th Sea going for years.

Tomorrow's question should be an interesting one to answer, given how much of a self-avowed tinker-monkey I am when it comes to RPGs.  Tune in tomorrow for what's likely to be a long and rambling answer.

August 13, 2017

RPGaDay Question #13

Question #13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

Well, this is probably what I get for not reading the questions ahead of time, as I've largely answered this back at Question #7 with my recounting my Vampire: The Masquerade experience where my Mortal returned from the dead as a Crow-style revenant.  If you've not seen interviews with the late Brandon Lee (taken way before his time) in regards to the change of perspective that comes with entering the role of a person whose life is behind them, I suggest doing so.  It's heady stuff, and the line that Eric delivers of how the little things always matter is one that a great many people need to hear.

So yeah, that game experience, of playing a character that has lived and died, returned to set the wrong things right, did have a rather profound experience.  While not all my characters are of the type to focus on the little things, I think that the more heroic-minded characters that I play do tend to focus on those little things, those small acts of charity and kindness that in the grand scheme of things probably don't amount to much, but still serve to make the immediate world around my character just that little bit brighter.

A game experience of a similar theme was one of my earliest sessions playing West End Games's Star Wars d6 RPG during my sophomore year of college, where in I played a Minor Jedi whose name I honestly don't remember.  The campaign was set in the midst of the Galactic Civil War, with the players being a band of newly-recruited Rebels that were fighting against the local Imperial presence on some Outer Rim planet whose name I also don't recall.  It was probably the fourth or fifth session, and the Old Senatorial was trying to rally locals to our cause, but sadly wasn't have as much success as he'd hoped for.  Now it's worth mentioning that before embarking on this campaign, a lot of my prior RPG experience was of the D&D mold, namely the "enter dungeons in search of loot and things to squash."

So when the big moment came to launch a raid on the Imperial regent's manor to liberate members of the local aristocracy, needless to say we were in a bind; to quote Murphy's Laws of Combat Operations, we were largely out of everything except the enemy, and thus were neck deep in the combat zone.

For my Minor Jedi, I had taken the advice of the GM and a couple players experienced with the system to put some of my starting skill points into my two Force skills, Control and Sense, so that he'd have some degree of competency with the Force as well as access to the lightsaber combat power, as well as some points in the Lightsaber skill itself.  In terms of that campaign, none of the other characters knew my character was a Jedi, only that I had some unusual abilities and hunches, coming across more as an oddity than anything else.  Deciding that the time for hiding had ended, and that if he was about to become one with the Force he'd do so in a manner befitting a Jedi Knight, my character drew and ignited his lightsaber, successfully activating lightsaber combat and adopting a combat-ready stance.  This of course drew the attention of the stormtroopers in the immediate area, with a group of them opening fire on this new threat.  The dice were certainly in what my friend Linda would refer to as "movie hero mode" and I managed to parry the attack and then reflect the blaster bolt into the lead trooper, dropping him with a single hit.  The presence of a Jedi on the field, especially one that was standing against the Empire, served as rallying point, one that the Old Senatorial didn't hesitate to exploit, and turned out to be the turning point of the skirmish, allowing us to win the day and free the prisoners.  Not a bad day's work for a half-trained Jedi apprentice.

My big take away from that was that it was indeed possible to play characters that weren't simply obsessed with purely tangible rewards, and that playing a truly heroic character, one that stood up when necessary to do what was right, was itself a rewarding experience, one that truly made playing RPGs worth it.  The other take away was that playing a Jedi was actually a lot of fun, something that's stuck with me through years of Star Wars gaming, be it WEG, WotC's various d20 iterations, and now FFG's system.

Come back tomorrow to see what I've got to say about Question #14 on the list.

August 12, 2017

RPGaDay Question #12

(so it seems that I will be sticking with including the above image on each of these posts after all)

Question #12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

This one's quite easy for me, as the answer is Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPG.  While she's since moved on to other things, Zoe Robinson did an outstanding job as Art Director for the product line in hiring artists and getting art that not only felt at place within the galaxy far, far away, but many of them were evocative of characters or events, many of which could and very likely have inspirited GMs to create plots using one of those images as the launching point for an adventure.

I still remember the last GenCon I was able to attend, where I got a chance to meet and chat a bit with Zoe, and the shared chuckle over how the character image for the Performer specialization in the Far Horizons supplement for the Edge of the Empire line was a barely dressed Twi'lek male rather than the scantily-clad female that a number of folks had been half-expecting and half-dreading. so well played to Zoe for that one.

Runner-up for me in terms of inspiring interior art would probably be CthulhuTech, which while not always bright and cheery certainly did help paint a vibrant picture of what the world was like during the Strange Aeon in which the game was set, even if the images of the Nazzadi got a little heavy on the fanservice at times.  A particular favorite of mine where the images of the Tagers, the setting's Guyver-inspired character types, with the illustrations showing just how powerful yet monstrous a character became when they shifted into their combat form.

August 11, 2017

Well, it is somebody's birthday... drinks all around!

But it's not mine.  Or at least, it's not mine yet, savvy?

However, since I'm due to be rather busy on the 12th, I figured I'd post this one.  And while a person's birthday is a time for them to receive presents from others, I thought I'd switch it up a little and provide a present for others.

Some time ago, I posted a very short introductory style of adventure for the 7th Sea 2nd edition RPG, under the punny name of "An Idol Pursuit."  Well, in the time since I posted that little tidbit, I've since expanded upon it, adding what I guess one might call an introductory prologue, focusing upon the exploits the Heroes undertake to obtain the Syrenth idol that my initial adventure centers around. I initially ran this as an unrelated one-shot for my regular Skype group, and the group had quite a bit of fun with it.

It was while working on coming up with a good 7th Sea adventure to run at GamerNationCon earlier this year that I got the bright idea of just combining the two small adventures (each of which can be run in less than 2 hours) into a single larger adventure that could fill up most of a four hour time slot.  Now carrying the still punny name of "An Idol Venture," this is a fun little romp designed to introduce players to the world and general feel of 7th Sea.  It's not all that difficult of a module, as it's meant to encourage enjoyment of the setting and the system, not grind the players into the dirt.  Thus, the Risks entailed aren't too daunting, and in a couple of cases the module itself encourages the GM to let the players get really creative with their descriptions in how they overcome the Risks presented.  It's a little rough around the edges, and by intentional design doesn't make use of Dramatic Risks (mostly out of fear of dragging the adventure out, a big no-no for con modules), but it's still fun and good for a night's diversion from a group's usual RPG fare, or as a means to give 7th Sea 2nd edition a whirl.

An Idol Venture, An Introductory Adventure for 7th Sea 2e

Also included in the zip file are the five Heroes that I created specifically for this module, though if you have access to the Heroes & Villains supplement, you could certainly select some of the Heroes from there if you'd like.  I've not yet found a character sheet that I'd truly liked or covered enough information to suit my tastes, so the characters here are presented in a pretty straight-forward style, with enough information given to play them without having to book-dive to see which of their abilities does what.

RPGaDay Question #11

Question #11: Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

So I've got two answers for this question.

First off, one setting I'd really like to see get revived is Babylon 5.  I very much enjoyed the d20 version produced by Mongoose Publishing, especially the second edition, even though it did share some of the issues inherent with the 3.X D&D version of the d20 engine.  I only got to play in a couple of very short campaigns, with the first one only being called a "campaign" out of charity as it only lasted two sessions, while the other lasted a bit longer at five sessions but collapsed due to conflicting schedules and half the players wanting something a bit more action-packed than the mystery/investigative plot the GM was using.

I did get to play a Ranger in the second one (was set a very short time after the original series ended but largely ignored the Crusade series), which was fun, and had some pretty interesting characters such as a Centauri version of Deep Space Nine's Garak and a Human Telepath (former PsiCorp) that had gotten her powers boosted via some ancient alien artifact of unknown origins.  The campaign was centered on a lesser EarthForce operated space station, though pretty sure none of the PCs were actually part of EarthForce; mine was perhaps the closest due to being part of the InterStellar Alliance, but was operating on an extended covert mission.  Sadly things were just starting to get good when the game folded.  Ah well.

Though if Babylon 5 does make a comeback in RPG form, I'd prefer it to not use a d20-based system but perhaps instead using something like Fantasy Flight Games' Genesys, Modiphus Entertainment's 2d20 (especially the Star Trek Adventures version), or even FATE Core.  Just give me a chance to play as one of the Anlashok and I'm content.

The second 'dead' game I'd like to see make a return would be CthulhuTech by Wildfire LLC.  It's quite an unusual setting, being a mash-up the Cthulhu Mythos and various anime series, most notably Robotech, Neon Genesis Evangalion, and Guyver.  It was fairly bleak, but there were still elements of hope for mankind, though the question of how far would humanity go to survive and would it still be recognizable as humanity often lingered in the background.  The art was certainly evocative, and the future setting did some elements that were unsettling.  But it also had stuff that was pretty damn cool, such as the Eva-inspired Engels, gigantic monstrous organisms sheathed in armor and perhaps humanity's most powerful weapon against the Migou invaders or monstrous hordes in service to the Old Ones, with my personal favorite setting element being the Tagers, humans that choose to bond with entities from outside our reality to become something more and yet intrinsically less than human, fighting a Shadow War against the corrupt Chrysalis Corporation and their thoroughly inhuman Dhohanoid, monsters that can wear the shape of man but have forsaken their humanity for power.  Yes, it's based very heavily on the Guyver series of anime, though the PCs are nowhere near that level of power.  I'd had hopes more than once of running a Tager-centric CthuluTech game, but those plans never came to fruition.

Sadly, it was a game hindered by a dice system that was far clunkier than it really should have been.  Another problem that plagued the game was the distribution issues Wildfire was having, as they bounced from Mongoose Publishing to Catalyst Game Labs, who from what I can understand really screwed over the folks behind CthuhluTech.  I think with a more streamlined dice system this game could do really well if brought back.  I know there'd been efforts by Wildfire to create a second edition (I even grabbed the playtest docs), but I've not heard much of anything else on the matter.

So yeah, those are the two main settings/games that had RPGs that I would love to see make a return from the land of dead games.  While not without their faults, there was a lot to like about the settings themselves, and for the most part what little gaming I did with those settings, I remember with a sense of fondness.

Come back tomorrow for my answer to question #12, which will probably not surprise anyone that knows my gaming habits of recent years.

Until then... we live for the One, we die for the One.