Thursday, December 18, 2014

Things I Think About Games (After Hindmarch & Tidball) Part Two

I’m still looking back at posts from the blog's first year (’09) and commenting on them. Here’s the second half of a post I started here. This concludes my thoughts on rpgs in the spirit of Things We Think About Games. I recommend that book for any gamer. I present this post “as is,” with comments. These are, as always, personal preference. In retrospect I wish I hadn't been so negative with many of these. I suspect several of these could be turned around to be positive statements, rather than condemnations. 


Things I Think About Games (After Hindmarch and Tidball) Part Two

Big Finishes Can Save a Game
If I'm watching a movie that's slow and lame and bores me, but the ending knocks it out of the park-- that is the part I'm going to remember. The opposite holds true, if a movie's great and then the ending is a letdown. The same thing holds for campaigns, one-shots, arcs and sometimes sessions. No pressure there, I'm just saying. 

Something Every Week
Something should happen every session. After a session, I should be able to point at something interesting that occurred. If there was a fight, something interesting should have happened in that fight. I ought to be able to tell a relatively non-boring story about the session. If not, then we're not doing something right. 

Never Say There's Nothing for Me to Buy
Really-- there's nothing your character wants to buy? You've hit the nadir of your abilities? Why don't I put that to the test then? If you want me to bring my GM whipping stick out and not in a good, “I get time at the table” but more in a “my character's out for how many sessions?” way, tell me this. 

I actually put this to the test with our Libri Vidicos campaign. I began it with an earlier version of our homebrew Action Cards, probably the most robust iteration I’d come up with. That worked pretty well- except it wasn’t really designed for how long the campaign lasted, six+ years. By the end players had really bought through most options for their character. I continually duct-taped new structures on and the whole thing barely held together to the end. So this doesn't always hold true...

Know Who's Playing
At any particular moment, you should know who is talking to the GM or interacting in character with another player. If you're not aware of that then there's a pretty good chance you're talking over someone or interrupting a scene. People zone out, and that's OK, but not when you stomp on other people's enjoyment.
 
Poo Flies Both Directions
Trash-talking and poking fun at other players is a part of the game. However if you go down that path, you'd better be prepared to get some of that splattered on you. In other words, don't dish it out if you can't take it. Obviously there's a question of tone and level to be considered here-- make sure you keep things on the same level or in the same spirit as the other person. 

It is Small Table
You've got a lot of people usually around a table, plus the various books, papers, food, drinks, dice, miniatures and so on. Be respectful of other people's stuff and don't crowd them out. Imagine you're at a nice dinner and keep those manners. If someone ends up looking at your character sheet or stuff by accident, don't get shitty. Most of the time that's an accident.
 
Yes, People Can Read Your Body-Language
If you're irritated, if you aren't enjoying yourself, if you're just a f*ckwit- people will know it. They can see you cross your arms, can see you pull your stuff back close to you and get defensive, and see you shut down. Don't act innocent if people ask about it later. You're in a small area with these people for several hours-- gamers are notoriously oblivious, but they'll pick up on that. Try to relax and get through the moment of what's bothering you. Get up and stretch if you need to-- and address your problem after the game. If it is just that you're in a bad mood, say so at the table and apologize. Being in a bad mood, on the other hand, doesn't give you license to make other people miserable. 

No Plan Ever Survives Contact with the Player Characters
Get used to it.

Change
Some people imagine themselves as iconic heroes, untouched and untouchable by the world. These are usually uninteresting characters. Characters who can't evolve or can only evolve along predetermined lines imagined by the player at the start-- those are boring characters. Be reactive to experiences and see how the unexpected shapes you.
 
I’m not sure this is entirely true, at least not true for some kinds of games. There can be a real pleasure in running the unflinching grimdark detective for a one-shot or short-term campaign. But if you’re going to be running a character for the long haul, it’s worth thinking about how it can develop or change. And if they won’t maybe show why they won’t is a compelling story.

Compromise does not Automatically = Failure
Other versions of the iconic characters mentioned above have to have things their way. They can't compromise their codes and rules. In some cases, that's a good challenge- it brings about questions about those codes in themselves and others. But more often than not, we get Rorschach like characters. Characters who can't adjust and work with a group shouldn't be made up to be played with a group. A game is a back and forth of argument, compromise, solution and progression. 

DramaSystem directly confronts this issue at the table. In any particular scene, we have a petitioner and a granter. Someone wants something and the other one doesn’t necessarily want to offer it. Characters gain bennies through granting requests or being denied requests. These can be used later for force scenes and events. I like how changes up that dynamic and makes intractability a disadvantage mechanically.

Interparty Fighting Sucks
There are some games that encourage this-- Paranoia as the best example. But there are some others- an Amber RPG Throne War or Wilderness of Mirrors. However the bottom line is that these experiences will come over to haunt you. They'll color other games, irritate people, and provide fodder for later payback which can destroy another game. There are exceptions- like one shots. But generally be prepared that even a game that's declared to have that purpose and be isolated has a pretty good chance of coming back to bite you in the ass. And for a normal game where you let this happen, especially late in the game, it can be bad. You may have to suspend disbelief to keep people from going after each other, but you're already operating in a fantasy world-- so what's the problem there. 

You Don't Own NPCs
Other people can talk to them too...don't get upset about it.

Tick, Tick, Tick...
Understand that when you start talking about WoW, a timer starts in my head. You've got about thirty-minutes (plus or minus ten) before I want to move on to another topic. I think that's pretty generous.

On a side note, I’m so glad they don’t play WoW anymore. Though there was a long period of Skyrim extended conversations.

The Future is Now
Computers at the game table were a great idea when we thought about that twenty years ago. Today, not so much. Bonus: yes, it is a little rude when you're playing away with your iPhone constantly when other people are taking their scene. 

Don't Threaten to Burn My House Down if My House Has Burned Down in the Past
If you'd played with people long enough odds are pretty good you know what irritates them. That's part of the art of banter at the table. But you also probably know what really pisses them off. Know the difference and don't use that in the game. 

If You Have Four Magic Swords, and I Have None and I Ask to Borrow One Before the Big Fight...
...lend one to me.

...please? 

Count to Five
If someone asks the GM a question, do a five count before you jump in to answer. Give them a chance to respond, and if they look around for input, then go ahead and speak your mind. Even, if not especially, not rules questions.
 
Wasn't There Another Stone Giant There?
If the GM forgets something bad, don't remind them. On the one hand, they may have honestly forgotten, in which case they'll remember it later, do a face-palm, and pretend nothing happened. On the other hand, the GM may be deliberately ignoring it to move the scene forward or to keep from killing the party off.

Things I Think About Games (After Hindmarch & Tidball) Part One

I’m looking back at posts from the first year of this blog (’09) and commenting on them. Today I correct a disservice. Five years on Things We Think About Games remains a book I go back to and reread every few months. I’ve lent it to other people and pestered them to give it back. When I wrote this post, I questioned the book's price tag. I was wrong- it is worth that and more. When I’m feeling moody about gaming I look at it again. When I’ve got five minutes to kill I look at it again. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it makes me think about why I don’t agree with it. A great, short books I recommend for anyone who plays games.


Here’s the first half of my original post “as is,” with comments. These are, as always, personal preference.

Things I Think About Games (After Hindmarch and Tidball) Part One
I picked up William Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball's Things We Think About Games recently. They write for one of my favorite gaming blogs gameplaywright.com. It is a pretty quick and easy read at about 140 pages or so. Each page has a single idea about gaming-- board, role-play or what not. Since the ideas are brief, you're getting a good deal of white space for the $20 price tag. I'm still not sold about whether it merits that cost, but I did enjoy the book-- but maybe not $20 worth. There some obvious stuff, some stuff I disagree with, some stuff that hadn't occurred to me (like the point about keeping your fingernails clean since people will be seeing your hands constantly when you play a game), and some confirmatory ideas (never ask for takebacks even if you misheard or had a rule mis-explained to you-- play as if you'll have another chance at the game later). There's a nice section on real world lessons learned from playing World of Warcraft, an intro from Wil Wheaton, and comments from Robin Laws (one of my favorite designers). 

In any case, I decided to write up a list of things that I think about rpgs that weren't included in the book. 

If You Don't Like to be Wrong, Maybe You Shouldn't be Playing an RPG.
These kinds of games are, by their nature about uncertainty. You don't, can't, have all of the information. Drama comes from surprise, mistakes, mystery and accidents. There's also the fact that you have other players reading the situation, often quite differently. The nature of the game means you can't always be right-- even in a game without dice. 

If You Can't be Wrong, You Really Shouldn't be Playing an RPG.
And maybe you better see if you've got some deeper problems. Not that you could really acknowledge that, right?

If You're Going to Say No, You'd Better Have Another Option
There's a role-playing maxim that suggests the GM shouldn't say no. If you can't quite get to yes-- have the player make a roll. The basic idea is to affirm player choices and provide them with opportunities, even if you don't think those choices seem great or especially if you think they're game breakers. If something's a gamebreaker to you as a GM, then you've planned it wrong. On the other hand if a player asks to do something that doesn't make sense to me as a GM, I'll repeat back to them what they say they're doing, perhaps with some more context of the situation, in case I haven't described the situation as well as I should have. 

But this also applies to situations as a player. If someone suggests a plan or option and you say no-- you'd better explain why. Few things can bring a game to a halt quicker than players who simply shut down other player's ideas. And “I don't want to” isn't really an option. 

Want to Piss Me Off? Tell Me You Were Just Playing Your Character 
I've said it many, many times before, but know where your character ends and your player begins. Being crappy to other players, NPCs or to the GM and then saying “I was just playing my character” is like saying: You Suck and then putting a :-) after it (or a “Wink!”). Bottom line- as has been said before- don't be a dick. 

Feed a Bad Player and He'll Sh*t All Over Your Game.
Some bad play comes out of ignorance or unfamiliarity to the play or the group dynamic. That can be fixed- through example or through discussion with a player. But some bad play is just bad play and can't be fixed. If you throw most plots, NPCs, or other things you think they want, they'll still be bad players and you'll have alienated the others at the table. They'll get fat and bloated until something happens where they make that final release...or the game ends...or both. I've seen it too many times. 

Ironically even as I wrote this I was dealing with a couple of bad players I ended up feeding and inviting back to the table for other campaigns. Both of them bit down hard and vomited all over the table. I even got an “I told you so” from the rest of the group in one case.

Some Characters are Easier to Write for than Others
Some PCs are easier to develop storylines for than others-- for that particular GM. A games strives for a kind of parity in terms of attention between players but in practical reality it never achieves that. As a GM, it isn't necessarily that I like one character better than another-- but some character fit better with what I'm doing, spark more stories or seem more sympathetic to me. I'm trying my best to keep that in rein, but it happens. If you're not getting the table time you want, talk to the GM about the kinds of stories you'd like and how that fits with your character. Don't demand X plot, but give the GM a better sense of things-- they may be lost when it comes to plotting for you. 

Give Me an Excuse to Let You Win
As a GM, I want you to win most of the time. I want you to have small victories, but I also want there to be challenge and tension. When you're trying to do something, don't just say what you're doing, but how you're doing it and why you're character is able to (skills, equipment, past experiences, psychological shock). Give me a hook to hang the victory on-- something that makes you're investment in your character pay off. 

Some Skills are Better Than Others
Most systems with skills generally have equal costs for most skills. However, not all skills are as useful as others- by this I mean things like Sailing or Pilot (Cart). That's a fact of the game. 

I Want What I Paid For
On the other hand, if skills like Diplomacy or Combat Abilities aren't going to be useful in a game-- the GM better tell me that ahead of time. If I've built my character based on statements about what the game is going to be like and it isn't that, I'm going to be pissed. 

This is a little problematic. At the start of campaign, a GM might not know what skills are going to be important. The players decide to go to sea and suddenly sailing's important and riding never gets used. I think GMs do know what elements they don’t usually bring to a game or they handwave, and should be honest about those. At the very least, give players the opportunity to switch those out.

Celebrate Victory
When a player wins, let them win. Give them proper credit for their victory. Never undercut it with “well, the opposition wasn't that tough...” or the like. As a GM it costs you nothing, and an inflated sense of self can be used later. Especially never undercut a PCs dramatic death or sacrifice. If they die holding a gate against the enemy, don't say afterwards “You know there was a special button you could have pushed to magically lock that...”. Don't do that. Really don't-- not even with an off-hand comment. Don't. 

Epic Fail = Table Time
The best part of having awful things happen to your character is that you get a chance to play those moments out. Sure a GM will probably play out some good, happy times at the table-- but more often than not we'll be dealing with the tense and awful. If you keep your character safe and bottled up, then you're less interesting. There's a limit to how many times I'm going to try to draw you out with new characters or plot threads. Eventually I'll get tired of that and figure you just want to watch the game go by for other people. Take risks, even if you think they might not be in character fully, to give yourself a chance to be at the center of a scene. 

Plays Well with Others
On the other hand, don’t go falling into everything just to have all the table time you can. That's annoying and diva-like. Learn to love the other PCs-- be as interested in their stories as your own. Make yourself the person they want to have with them when they go to do their scenes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Atomic Robo: RPGs I Like

I’ve had a chance to read through the Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game a couple of times now. Here’s what I think.

Production…
The book’s gorgeous. Atomic Robo’s a substantial 6.75 x 10.25 softcover. It uses full-color interior art on glossy, heavy weight paper. The book has heft and feels good when you hold it. The only knock against it I have is that the spine’s a little tight and I can’t quite bring myself to break it. The interior artwork’s entirely drawn from the comic or (I’m guessing) produced by Wegener for the book. The layout’s solid and highly usable: clear chapter breaks, easy to spot headings, great white space. It all shows careful craftsmanship on Jeremy Keller and Adam Jury’s part. There’s a solid ToC as well as a complete index. It’s always worth pointing out a good index because it helps make these games playable and many books skip them entirely.

As An Atomic Robo Book…
Licensed RPGs have to walk a fine line between being a role-playing game and being a sourcebook for the setting. That’s especially true for settings with a smaller history to draw on. The Star Wars and Conan licenses can get away with a sketchy outlines in the core rules. Games covering niche products like this (or Hellboy or Bubblegum Crisis) need to present more background. On the other hand, some games go too far in that direction and offer little game. Atomic Robo strikes a strong balance.

But it does that by integrating the art, tone, and feel of the property into the gaming material. As with Evil Hat’s previous licensed game, The Dresden Files, this feels like Atomic Robo all the way through. Mike Olson manages to echo the flavor of the comics in every chapter through a combination of voice, great examples, and graphic design tricks to continually bring the characters from the comics to the fore. And somehow it doesn’t feel intrusive. I’ll admit that when I read through Dresden Files the sidebars and interruptions sometimes knocked me out of the reading. I didn’t have that problem with Atomic Robo.

If you’re coming here purely looking for more Atomic Robo stuff because you love the comic, there’s a bunch of it. The opening has a good nine page overview of the setting. But more importantly there’s an awesome timeline of the universe at the back. Between that and the character write ups, which cover nearly everyone who has been in the comic, you end up with about 70 pages of material. A devoted fan would buy it just for that and then would have the added bonus of seeing how this world could be gamified. If you’re a fan of another RPG system, say Savage Worlds or True20, and want to adapt Atomic Robo, you’ll want to pick this up. Beyond the background material it offers a wealth of ideas of how to bring comic elements to the table.

As An RPG…
Atomic Robo offers a complete rpg in a single volume. It uses the Fate Core system, but is stand alone. Players will want to pick up a set of the specialty Fate Dice to complete the game. It is a narrative/ description heavy rpg, focusing more on player interaction and control over the environment than involved rules systems covering all situations. In that regard I’d says it’s to the lighter side of complexity of Savage Worlds or Cinematic Unisystem.

Atomic Robo aims to make character creation easy. The overview of the process takes only twelve pages and includes a quick on-the-fly approach. I should note that this section has plenty of examples and a handy illustrated breakdown of the process. The subsequent chapters follow the same process illustrating Aspects, Stunts, and Skills with smart restatement of concepts from place to place. Atomic Robo allows players to create a wide range of character types. While it offers some templates, it can be a more open process than many gamers have played before. Allowing players to make choices later during play helps moderate that. Like other Fate-games Atomic Robo relies heavily on the concept of Aspects. These descriptors like “Grimly Pragmatic” or “The Ghost of Menlo Park” define characters, action results, the environment, and so on. More than anything else, when I see questions about Fate, they revolve around aspects. Atomic Robo does a great, great job of illustrating how players use those in play. All through the books we have numerous examples, often funny, of those.

That’s important for the GM side, since Aspects can often be the most difficult thing to adjudicate for starting GMs. Atomic Robo includes an 85 page GM section. Like other games includes some general advice for running at the table. But more than anything else it offers comprehensive help in running a specifically Atomic Robo campaign. From factions to flashbacks to conspiracy construction to using Tesladyne at the table, it aims to create a particular feeling.

Everywhere Atomic Robo gives gamers the tools to play and run Action Scientists.

As a Fate Game…
If you’re already a Fate gamer, should you pick this up? The short answer is yes. Why? Because it is doing some really interesting stuff with the system. It handles skills in a different way, through Modes, which are collections of skills: Action, Intrigue, Banter, and Science. Players have a value in a mode and then can further buy up specific skills within that mode. This makes character creation easier and also streamlines the overall process (i.e. no pyramid). The game only has 13 skills, plus Sciences. All of that goes a long way to carrying the feel of the setting. You could imagine it as an approach between Fate Core and Fate Accelerated.

This approach could be used for other genres- changing the modes and the skill choices. Such a stripped down approach forces you to look at what’s happening in a particular setting and what the play’s going to be like.

Atomic Robo offers several other innovations. In particular the “brainstorms” mechanic both fits the setting and adds a cool new tool. Essentially a brainstorm uses collaborative problem solving and definition. Players apply their skills and the successful winner gets to establish a hypothesis. Eventually a solution develops through several combined statements. It’s an interesting idea and I can imagine adapting this to a world with magical puzzles and problems. The faction system presented here could also be used for other games easily.

The real strength of the material lies in some of the clear explanations and examples. I think these offer guidance for how to present Fate concepts to players. Beyond that Atomic Robo shows how you can keep essential Fate Core and still tune the game to a particular genre and setting.

Final Thoughts
This is a dynamite and amazing looking book and game. I recommend it for Atomic Robo for both fans and role-players. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

13th Age: System Guide for New Players

This year I played six sessions and ran eight of 13th Age. That's not that much but it's become my go-to system for throwback fantasy. I played years of Basic D&D, AD&D, RolemasterStormbringer, and even a little 3.5. But in the last decade or so when we've done fantasy, it's been more narrative and less classic. We'd used GURPS, StorytellerTrue20Fate, and various homebrews. 13th Age hits my perfect middle ground for  handling dungeon & hex crawls. It offers fun class choices for players, challenging monsters, cool world-connecting elements, and handwaves mechanics I'm not interested in.

For this list I'm pulling together what's been published for 13th Age up to this point. I'm probably missing a few things. Where I've read through a product, I offer my impressions. Hopefully players considering 13th Age can look at this and see what's essential and what might be interesting for their play style.

The Basics
13th Age is a d20-esque game. It echoes various versions of D&D but streamlines them to focus on different elements. To me it feels like GMs got together and looked closely at how they actually run at the table. Then they built a system supporting that. 13th Age has nine classes (Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard. Each offers a radically different approach to play and differing complexity. Characters are built on the classic six stat system and the game supports play up to level ten. Players familiar with other d20 or D&D games will easily recognize the mechanics.

The SRD for the system is available online. That's a good place to check first to see if the game fits. Among my players a couple haven't bought the core book, but they've been able to use the SRD well enough to keep up with play. The generic system for 13th Age is called the Archmage Engine.

13th Age has several striking rules elements I love. Some are unique and some reflect innovations in other systems. This is my personal list of the best.
  • Icons: Characters begin with relationships to the defining "Icons" of the setting: rulers, great figures, legendary monsters. The game mechanizes this. Both players and GMs can call on these relations. I've talked more about Icons here
  • One True Unique Thing: Players define one unusual and crazy truth about their character, not for mechanical benefit but to offer story options. 
  • Handling Skills: Backgrounds are equivalent to skills in this system. Players define what kind of apprenticeship, upbringing, and durance they've gone through. "Student of a Heretical Chantry" or "Scout for the 7th Blades" for example. Each background has a value which can be added to a roll when an action fits with it. 
  • Asymmetrical Character Classes: Each class feels distinct. It can seem like they're running with different engines in and out of combat. 
  • Simplified Combat Elements: It uses abstract distance and movement. Characters are either engaged, nearby, or far away. That cuts out many related details and elements. Likewise it takes a simplified approach to modifiers and conditions. 
  • Abstracted Wealth and Equipment: GMs can track money should they want to, but they can also focus on the players’ ability to have the important stuff: potions, minor fantastic trinkets, and more serious magic items. 
  • Magic Item Limits: Players can only carry and use a certain number of magic items based on their level. This makes for interesting choices. 
  • Experience: The GM sets when the players have accomplished enough to level. Characters gain incremental advances between those. This means they can pick benefits from their next level they want (new feat, more HP, skill test bonuses). 
This simplification may not work for everyone, but I enjoy it. For actual play, you can check out my videos from our ongoing campaign.

13th Age Core Rules
The core book for 13th Age is complete and covers all elements of the system: character creation, combat, adventuring, monsters, magic items, and a sample adventure. You could easily run a strong and satisfying campaign just from this material. For example, the bestiary offers many of the classics and suggestions on how to retool them. The GM advice is particularly good. Often you'll see a conversation between the designers about how they handle elements differently in their campaigns.

I've talked about 13th Age as a system, but it also includes a rich and distinct setting, The Dragon Empire. It runs through the book, used for examples and explanations. The book begins with this material, in particular the Icons of the setting. GMs looking to assess the mechanics may find themselves jumping past. But that misses some of the best stuff here. The setting's vivid and does an excellent job of making the game concrete. It shows how assumptions about the world can affect mechanics and character play. The sample adventure, for example, demonstrates how Iconic relationships can be used to change environmental and plot details. At the same time, 13th Age's setting doesn't feel intrusive. The rich material didn't get in the way when I went to use it for a different world.

13th Age has a couple of points GMs should be aware of. The classes are distinct enough you may not have mastery over what everyone can do right away. That also means players may have a hard time transitioning from one class to another. It’s also easy to see Recoveries as an unimportant element unless you're pressing hard on the party. Finally new players will continually get lost at the distinction between Talents and Feats. 13th Age handles feats differently than many other games. Both times we've done character creation sessions, players miss what they can take and what they can buy up. It took a couple of sessions to get that worked out in both cases.

This is the first major rules sourcebook and expansion for 13th Age. It includes six new classes: Chaos Mage, Commander, Druid, Monk, Necromancer, and Occultist. Again they feel novel and distinct from one another. All lean towards the higher end of difficulty. The Druid, in particular, has diverse menu of options to really tune the character towards different conceptions of the class. This book presents rules for handle multiclassing, a perennial concern in these kinds of games. All this takes up the first 110+ pages of the 256 page book.

Most of the other sections are smaller. Forty pages covers five different cities in the Dragon Empire setting. I like the presentation here- with discussion of twists on the city and lists of rumors. GMs will be able to lift elements, but it especially supports GMs running this setting. An equal amount of space presents new monsters, including lots of devils, dragons, and elementals. It also has some simple advice on changing existing monsters to match party levels. Complimentary to that is a short section on "Deviltry." It considers how corruption and the infernal might fit into a campaign. To illustrate this it presents different origins for devils tied to each of the Icons. This can be useful for GMs of the setting and as a model for other campaigns. The GM section at the end of the book presents a grab bag of ideas. I dig the new magic items in particular.

This supplement is solid. I'd say buy it after you've had a chance to test drive the system and get a feel for the basic game. This doesn't change it, but the new character options could be overwhelming. It’s recommended, and if you're running in the Dragon Empire setting, it is highly recommended.

Everyone loves monster manuals and this is a good one. There's a great range of different monsters with evocative artwork. Basilisks to Gelahedrons to Remorhaz to Zorigami. Each entry has the basic stats as well as suggestions on how to do nastier versions. Most include advice on building battles, connections to the Dragon Empire Icons, and adventure hooks. Many have sidebars offering additional thoughts and ideas on how to use these creatures. Outside of the monster listings it also includes discussion of how to reskin or tweak existing monsters, notes on how to build monsters from scratch, and a complete index by level and role for all the monsters from the bestiary and the core book. Throughout the book there are nice GM ideas, like odd monster lists including “Monsters That Might Take You For Ransom Rather Than Just Kill You."

I really love the 13th Age Bestiary. The core book has a ton of different monsters and you could easily run or build from those. But this book offers its money's worth for GMs. I'd suggest this as the second book to purchase for anyone wanting to run 13th Age.

I love magic items even more than monsters. Creatures & Treasures remains one of my go to sourcebooks when I run fantasy. 13th Age puts an emphasis on magic items, balanced by two concepts. First, that players can only use a limited number of items. Second, items exert an influence through personality quirks afflicting their bearers. The Book of Loot is a compendium of magic items. Each chapter focuses on one of the Icons, offering associated goodies. So for the Diabolist we have The Ring of Honeyed Words and Priestess we have the Circlet of Revelation. At a quick count each offers 20+ items, including some with extensive discussion. There's also some GM Notes and three adventure hooks for each.

The organization by Icons works well for Dragon Empire campaigns. If you're not using those, you may find it a little harder to work through. I'm more accustomed to arrangement by item type, but I see why they took this route. The book includes a quick reference table at the back broken down that way. It’s also worth noting that all the items have quirks associated with them. In other books the authors only infrequently detail those. GMs who have had a hard time coming up with quirks will appreciate the examples here.

This is a solid resource for 13th Age GMs. It isn't essential, but it is highly useful. The items are clever and this is worth buying for any FRPG.

Adventures
So far Pelgrane has released two adventures for 13th Age and has another forthcoming:
  • Make Your Own Luck was an adventure released for Free RPG Day. It's handles 2nd level and can be used as a prequel to Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be available in print or pdf at this time. 
  • Shadows of Eldolan is a 72 page town-based adventure for 1st level characters. I haven't yet come across any reviews for this. It is currently only available in print (or in a print/pdf bundle via the Pelgrane website). 
  • Eyes of the Stone Thief promises to be a megadungeon campaign for 13th Age. As of this writing, it is in pre-order. You can see more about that here.

Organized Play
Pelgrane has created an Organized Play Program for 13th Age. You can find the details on that here. They've released several adventures for the program:
2nd Level
Crown of the Lich King
Wyrd of the Wild Wood
Quest in the Cathedral
Shadow Port Shuffle

4th Level
Wrath of the Orc Lord
Elf Queen’s Enchantment

Shorter Adventures
Fungaloid Infection
Folding of Screamhaunt Castle
Tower of the Ogre Mage
Three Hearts Over Glitterhaegen
Omenquest

Online Resources

Midgard is the official Kobold Press fantasy setting. It has clockwork elements, strains from Russian folklore, and a host of other wonderful oddities. Kobold Press has released setting supplements in Pathfinder, D&D 4e, and now 13th Age flavors. So far three major 13th Age Midgard publications have arrived.

Midgard Bestiary: This is a great 108-page book. For one thing it really sells the unique setting. The Psychic Derro Fetus, Nienheim Gnomes, and Merrows all caught my eye for use at the table. Each entry includes the basics, magic items found with the monster, and often adventure hooks and other interesting GM discussion. It adds the unique player races of Midgard, though GMs will want to look carefully at these before bringing them to another campaign. More importantly, Wade Rockett writes up the 13 Icons for the Midgard setting. This does several things. It makes it really easy to shift over to Midgard and keep those rules. It also presents a great snapshot of the setting, giving novices like me a better sense of what's going on. Finally it serves as a great model for GMs thinking about creating Icons for their own world. It’s a great book and I recommend it highly for 13th Age GMs.

Deep Magic: I have not yet picked this up. It's a 144-page sourcebook focusing exclusive on Wizard Magic. That includes new talents, schools of magic, and options to make the 13th Age magic system reflect that of Midgard. It looks pretty cool.

The Wreck of Volund's Glory: An adventure for 2nd level characters design to be run in a single evening.

Jon Brazer Enterprises has released three 13th Age products. The most important of these is Deadly Delves: Reign of Ruin, released in parallel with a Pathfinder version. This is a decent 34-page adventure for 4th level characters with the intent of moving them up to 5th. There's some nod to the 13th Age setting in the form of Icon connections, but for the most part it offers a stand-alone adventure. GMs will find a few new monsters, an introductory travelling section, and a multi-level dungeon. It has a couple of sharp ideas on how to run a dragon against the PCs. Brazer has also released two short supplements: Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Great Druid featuring 12 new monsters and Age of Icons: 100 Lich Queen Agents which is actually a list 100 names plus five NPC write-ups.

Other Third-Party Products

I may have missed some, but here’s what I’ve found:
Other System Guides
GUMSHOE: A System Guide for New Gamers (Updated)

Friday, December 12, 2014

RPG Mechanics I Always Ignore

I wrote this over six years ago, back in March ’09. I’m strident in places. Usually I’m middle of the road. I come out of years and years of playing more detailed, system-heavy games: Rolemaster, GURPS, Bushido, Champions, Fringeworthy, and the like. I did AD&D until ’87. From that basis I began to move into lighter systems after 2000. When I reread my early posts, especially ones about system, I see myself wrestling with what I want from a game. I’m go back to our homebrew, Action Cards, come up with new sub-systems and then strip them out again. Here’s what I didn’t like/didn’t use back then, followed by present-day commentary. These reflect what I dig at the table for most of my games. Some games use these elements to support what they’re doing and that’s awesome. Torchbearer for example makes resource management central to play. I think I missed that purpose-driven point in my original post.


RPG MECHANICS I ALWAYS IGNORE
(But still keep appearing in rulebooks)

Equipment tracking and encumbrance
I don't remember when I stopped worrying about this kind of thing. I distinctly recall having the classic D&D “is it written on your sheet?” arguments back in high school. I also remember keeping track of these things for a time when we played GURPS, but only because encumbrance actually had a fairly easy to track set of effects. Somewhere along the line I stopped really caring about it. When Dave Fink ran his Rolemaster game he shocked me by forcing everyone to go to the equipment lists and spend money to show what precisely we were carrying. It seemed so odd.
The last real attempt to follow this was more of a tactile exercise when we played the Red Emperor campaign. I had money bags sewn up by Sherri's mom and prepared coins and tokens to track wealth. We stuck with that for a long time, but eventually I gave up on it. I'd stopped measuring treasure troves in terms of Electrum pieces and Gold Coins. That kind of tracking just seems a little archaic. Instead I measure wealth and items more abstractly. If someone says they have something, and it makes sense they'd be carrying it with them, then I let them have it. If there's a question we make a roll. I only worry about wealth in the abstract-- ratings and levels-- that help support an argument that someone can having something special or expensive.

The exception comes where the question of scarcity of wealth is crucial to the scenario. For example, in the Crux campaign, I've made their lack wealth and resources appropriate to their status a central theme to the campaign. Over time they've slowly accrued more money, which has in turn brought more things they need to spend money on. That question of wealth and support serves as a major plot point. Alternately, in the Changeling game, they have a support structure for food and shelter, but at this point little else. Since the campaign has a theme the question of how outsiders survive in the real world, how much money they have is important. Over time I expect those monetary questions to be answered but they should always at least be pressing in the background. At the same time, I still don't need them to have equipment lists: we know they have a couple of changes of clothing, a fine set of Dollar Store dishware and so on.

For your classic game game, all people really need to have on their sheet is what weapon they use, why armor their wearing, and any magic/unique items they've picked up over the course of the game. Kaiju, in the Action Cards system, has a card that specifically addresses the question of having the right item at the right time-- if he pulls it he can justify excellent preparation.

Oh boy. Bunch of problems here. First, I’m conflating two things here: wealth and encumbrance. Second, there’s a place for money counting. That’s an important element in many OSR games. It creates atmosphere and offers a tangible reward. Tracking money can be fun when that’s integrated into the game play: i.e. that money’s the point of the game. I’m usually not running games aimed at that. I tend to focus on larger scale loot: connections, magic items, favors, objects of utility. It isn’t what I normally do- but if I ran something like DCC, I’d probably at least try to bring that in as a factor. Third, the encumbrance question is more involved than I suggest. Some games have a tactical aspect where that’s important. Encumbrance and carrying capacity serves to distinguish characters. It forces choices on the players and can be important. And with modern electronic character sheets and rules integration, we can easily track equipment and weight. It isn’t something I’m going to do but I see it fits with some games. The closest I come to this is 13th Age’s limit on magic items, with the players wrestled with in a session this week.

Reaction Rolls
GURPS and a few other systems have social rules that elaborately track levels of friendship and interaction. I feel a little bad about ignoring them in GURPS since several advantages add bonuses to these initial checks. But on the other hand, if you have to leave these kinds of considerations to mechanics-- then I think you're doing something wrong. I'm not saying that social skills shouldn't have checks-- but they should be used where risk comes in and the player's had a chance to develop how they want to interact. Those skills become support for Matrix-style arguments about being able to persuade, convince, bribe, bluff, or seduce. The GM has to decide the player's comfort level with these kinds of interactions-- balancing the player who can comfortably soliloquy with the player who gets tongue tied. I, for example, try to interpret things for players if they have high social skill levels but they themselves might not be picking up on some of the subtleties.

The question of how you handle social interaction’s more complicated. There’s an eternal debate between “Allow them to Play It” and “Roll Only” approaches, with most games falling somewhere in the middle. I think my old self is actually reacting to the concept of Initial Reaction rolls- that when characters meet NPCs you randomize reactions. That’s usually not the way I play. NPCs usually have a position and particular desires. Players usually have a particular presentation or approach. I base initial reactions on that and the environment (reputation, situation). Players can obviously make checks to modify attitudes. So that’s a case of adjudicating. I keep most of that abstractly in my head. But I admire a GM who can and does mechanically track attitude states for NPCs. OOH this may be a straw man- I never played with a GURPS GM who used Reaction Rolls.

Vehicle and Equipment Building
I like my character points to stay where they are-- with character creation. A number of games-- GURPS, Cyberpunk, MektonZ, Hero System, among others-- have elaborate systems for building devices, magic items and/or vehicles. For some games I can certainly see that-- if you're playing a giant robot game, you need to have rules for them. More often these systems involve elaborate calculations about weight, chassis strength, dollar costs, level limits and so on. I don't want to deal with that-- I mean, I just barely stat out the bad guys. Generally these systems do align with the other systems in the game-- I mean that they ought to be simply another iteration of the character creation system, but in a different scale with a few twists added to them.

I don't think I've ever run a game where these kinds of things have been important-- the exception being Neon Genesis Zombie. GURPS and other fantasy games have extensive systems for the creation of magic items, but I've always ignored them. I just make up something that sounds cool. I always abstract these elements and ignore this sometimes literal chrome on the game system.

Some people love this stuff. For some it’s a rich part of a particular game’s experience. I’ve heard a players talking about ship construction in Traveller for example. It makes me wish I dug this, but try as I can it doesn't click for me. In the last several years I done at least one game which included this, but I kept it simple. For my Star Wars campaign I put assembled a simple set of options and add ons the Captain character could buy for his ship over play. I had a menu of maybe two-dozen choices for an 8-10 session campaign. I’ll likely do the same when I run my Crimson Skies spin-off portal.

Modifier Charts, Range and Combat Complications
I don't usually use a GM's screen. I also don't like looking at the rulebooks when I'm running-- I always feel the need to apologize when I do. Exceptions occur when something completely new comes up or when we've probably handled something wrong before. The former often happens the first time we use a power or a maneuver; the latter I try to do only if the results otherwise might screw a player who has invested points in something.

I can recall the amusement of trying to put together all the modifiers from the old GURPS Size/Speed charts-- Vatican City moving at the speed of light while on fire was only something like a -16 to hit. Most games with numerical systems spend time delineating all the possible modifiers. I usually chunk those in favor of simply giving a penalty or bonus. My favorite is +/-2-- really-- it is easy to add and usually makes a difference. Obviously if things get crazier you need to do more-- but I generally wing everything on that score. An exception would be hit location penalties-- I usually stick closer for those. One thing to watch out for, as a GM, is compensation creep. When players start out with their skills, they're usually pretty low level. As a generous GM, your instinct is to not apply modifiers. However, once players get to higher skill ranks, there's more room to impose penalties. Hence, your instinct is to begin to impose them for things you wouldn't have before. Impose penalties where the player knows that what they're doing is difficult-- otherwise don't worry about it.

Range also falls into this category of mechanics. Any game with a significantly detailed weapon chart establishes very different ranges for weapons. I remember loving the detailed number crunch of the Palladium Armory books or even the Fringeworthy/Stalking the Night Fantastic games. However, in practice we rarely paid attention to those numbers. They're like a comfortable pillow for simulationists, but in play they slow things down. Obviously throwing a knife or an axe has a shorter range than shooting a gun or a bow. But in play I only give penalties if, when I eyeball the scene, it looks, um, “far.” In practice most things will reach across your usual room or hex map. If not, then -2.

Some systems require bows a round of prep. No. I hate that. Yes-- it would be more realistic to calculate times, but it irritates me. Crossbows and Volters, which do more damage, take a couple of rounds to reload. We assume that a player (or an NPC) is only going to get one or maybe two shots from one of those-- we don't calculate it otherwise. Likewise, I don't usually assign “snap-shot” or “draw & fire” penalties. That's a cinematic action and I want to encourage it. If not, then -2.

System matters and what you want to get out of the system. I’m not running simulationist games. So I have a tendency to quick adjudicate modifiers for games. For example I run Mutants & Masterminds and I’ll throw in circumstance modifiers from time to time, often to change up the environment. I like 13th Age’s streamlining of this as well- reserving penalties and benefits for character feats or monster effects. Fate’s about my speed. Aspects allow quick definition of the environment and allow players to choose how to interact with them. OOH in our f2f games we play out combat with minis, at which point I mix scene aspects with actual terrain on the table. 

That being said, I’ve playing around with running an X-Com game using Roll20. It has fog-of-war built in so it could be perfect. If I wanted to run a highly tactical game like that I’d track all that stuff. Elevation, snap shooting, firing on the run, cover, range effects, etc. Players would have to make informed decisions about whether to take a shot, when to move, and what kind of cover to use. That a place where these mechanics would serve the game’s purpose.

Disease and Fatigue
If you have to track a character becoming exhausted from being in combat, your combats are going too long. GURPS has some rules for this and Rolemaster Standard System had the most insane set of guidelines I've ever seen. Those mechanics read like a parody of an rpg. A combat lasting that long ought to be a mass battle-- or perhaps there's a series of fights, in which case-- shock of shocks, you apply a -2 penalty. Likewise diseases should be important game events rather than something you have to roll for. Too many games have extensive lists-- with effects, incubation times, contagion levels, and all kinds of details. I'm sure some GMs follow through on these things, but I have never used these rules-- they just seem like a bizarre elaboration.

Like Disease, Fatigue is cool for me when it is used as a setting element. They’ve been down in the dungeon too long, they’re trekked through the desert, etc. Fatigue as its own damage/resource pool doesn’t appeal to me. I think they have more impact if they come from an existing pool like HP, Stress, or even Drama Points.

Variable Experience Rewards
The excellent Old School gaming blog, A Paladin in the Citadel, reminded me of this recently. He's been looking at early games at how the logic of their experience point reward structure impacts play and game. He's hit The Fantasy Trip and the Holmes Basic DnD for example.

I remember those things from when I played when I was younger, but I also remember those going out the window pretty early. Except in rare cases, whoever ran almost always just threw out either a lump sum to be divided or just an equal fixed number. Then at some point we started playing original Rolemaster. The GM who ran that (based in a Hârn analogue setting) always went through and tracked damage dealt, relatively levels, treasure found and distance traveled for individual experience. The system provided an unfortunate feedback loop which fed players who did well and screwed those non-damage dealing ones. Of course you'd see that as a problem later in some computer games and MMORPGs. The breaking point came for that system when he transported us to a Gamma World like setting and we went cross-continental in a hovertube. Immediately we demanded the experience associated with a journey of that length. Eventually since RM had development points per level spent on skills, the GM just gave out DP instead of Exp.

When we moved to games with points built in, like GURPS & Champions, the system became a little easier and we tended to have a single consistent reward for all players each session. Most games had individual mechanics for singling out and rewarding players. Usually we ignored those. In practice in long-term campaigns I saw one of two effects. If the GM gave out those bonus points, there sometimes arose a question of fairness-- and the GM would have to effectively rotate the gifting of those bonuses which negated the system. On the other hand, player vote systems really depended on the group. I saw groups which could handle it and rewarded well. On the other hand I saw established groups where the system rewarded on play of a certain kind-- only within the conventional expectations of the players. Any play outside of those lines became ignored.

Eventually I gave up on those totally when groups would actually track and realize that someone hadn't gotten bonus points and make sure those went to the person left behind. Again, the same effect as giving the same number to everyone. Now, for reward, I tend to use drama or hero points, a temporary resource. Since it is decoupled from power and relative ability, but has real effect, it doesn't create any tension at the table.

I still agree with this. I understand arguments about creating difference and incentivizing certain kinds of play. I think we potentially hit against the “Syndrome” argument from The Incredibles. But on my list of table values, that ranks lower than player parity. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Niche RPG Mechanics I Dig

I’ve been reexamining my posts from the first year of my blog (’09). In the first months, I wrote two posts- one on mechanics & sub-systems I hated and one on those I loved. So have my tastes or perspectives shifted since I wrote these? As you’ll see not so much on this post, but there’s more hubris on display in the next one I’ve kept the post in its original format (warts and all), but added commentary.

ODD RPG MECHANICS I'M FOND OF
While I've been whittling away at the mechanics I actually use at the table, I'll still admit that I have great fondness for cleverly constructed rules and systems. My problem stems from their real lack of utility at the table-- getting in the way of the story of narrative. But I still like the idea of structures-- and some of them do work for handling odd things. I know Sherri gets a little frustrated when I start talking about new system mechanics I've come up with-- she knows that 99% of the time I could handle the same thing through narrative negotiation. I have been trying to sublimate my affection for mechanics into my board game obsessions.
That being said if I find one of my “pet topics” has been covered interestingly or well in a game system, I'm feverishly drawn to pick it up. I've seen some good versions, and a lot of lousy versions of the systems. Some I've liked at first and then changed my mind after playing with them for a while.

Mass Combat: We used to play Chainmail with all the figures we had-- probably my first real introduction to miniatures game. It wasn't really tied to any campaign, but closer to pulling out all your action figures and rolling dice to determine battles. Back in 1985 TSR finally put out Battlesystem-- which was intended to be the definitive mass combat rules for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. We still played AD&D at that time and I recall picking up the rules and never, ever using them.

Instead the first time I saw an even reasonably workable way to handle mass combat in a role-playing game came from Gurps. They first presented an abstract system in their Horseclans book and then later in their take on Conan. That broke forces down into numbers and values and had contested rolls. However both only had some light contact with how the players might interact with the battle (i.e. here's how you resolve the battle and you can do something...at some point...). Over the years I saw other iterations-- TSR with Birthright, ICE with War Law- which was even worse than you can imagine. Probably the best take I've seen has been L5Rwhich resolves the battle but also provides events and incidents to give more color and control for the players. Exalted 2e has a take on it that I don't find that appealing, despite its simplicity (essentially armies become like equipment and weapons for resolution). The Black Company RPG has some great stuff-- but it suffers from being based in d20.

I've tried some homebrew systems in the past-- trying to bridge the gap between the strategic choices of the leaders and the roles of the players on the battlefield. Some of those resolution systems have been interesting and made for good sessions (the Siege of Neutral City, the Battle of Whitewall) while others have been real misses (the Urokell Campaigns) in part because different players wanted different things out of the game. So my druthers these days is to handle those things as abstractly as possible-- but at the same time I look over the rules I find in other games, hunting for that magic bullet.

I’ve little with mass combat since I wrote this. Mostly I've handled it in the abstract. It’s a looming factor in our Legend of the Five Rings seasonal campaign, but we haven’t yet had any full-scale conflicts. In fact the players work hard to avoid those. Even our "Sellsword Company" campaign saw most things handled in tactical skirmishes, with players commanding themselves plus an abstract set of troops. In the last few years I’ve picked up a few games that have interesting mechanics at this scale like Reign and Legends of Anglerre.

Chases: Action movies live or die on their chase sequences. However, translating that energy on to the tabletop can be difficult. On the one hand, you want players to be able to make strategic choices-- whether their fleeing or pursuing, but on the other hand you want everything to move at a breakneck pace. You could make everything based on A or B shout it out choices-- like quick-time events from video games but that isn't entirely satisfying. The good action sequence has characters interacting with the environment in clever ways. There's also the question of how you represent skill in those situations-- I mean, beyond speed and reflexes. Let's say you have a system of compared maneuver types-- represented abstractly-- a good pursuer ought to be able to determine something about his opponent's actions going into the chase (“i.e. You think he's going to do an X, Y or Z escape action”). That would allow them to calculate more optimal responses. But that's another moment, another decision, another step, another cross-referencing that needs to be handled. And so we slow things down further.

Two games I recall with more involved discussion of chase mechanics are the old James Bond RPG and Spycraft. The former I don't remember that well-- but my suspicion is that it wasn't that great since I don't recall many exciting chases in the games I ran. Spycraft has some interesting ideas, but unfortunately wedded to a d20 based system with a highly, highly elaborated feat system. I still keep looking.

I still tend to run these as a series of competing tests. But I’ve also like options for risk vs. reward, where players can gamble on their success. I've begun to think that there’s a big difference in how you ought to present chases where the players are pursuers vs. those in which they’re pursued. Night’s Black Agents has some good chase mechanics, but perhaps a little more detailed than I want. Fate’s been useful as a model for handling environmental details and player’s ability to manipulate elements of the chase. I also have to check out the new Feng Shui rules and see what they have.

Duels: There's great tension that comes from seeing a single hero take on their rival in a one-on-one duel. The end duel from Robin Hood or any high noon showdown from a Western. That's hard to replicate at the table for a couple of reasons-- not least of which is that you have multiple PCs. You can kind of work around that through careful planning and a group that understands dramatic necessity. But most games done really simulate the back and forth of a duel-- advantage, gaining ground, managing to get out of a particular maneuver. Those are discrete elements and generally when I play, I'm imagining a round of combat not as a single swing and defense, but as a series of movements, strikes, and finally real attempts. One other problem comes up in gunfights or Iaijutsu duels-- that's really one strike or shot and ends up being a contest of initiative. I've tried a couple of work arounds-- usually involving perception and skill checks before a duel to gain advantage. Those have usually happened in tournament settings. Some of those ideas I took from a Pyramid article on the topic, but I haven't found anything entirely satisfying.

I still dig these- particularly as set-piece moments between a PC and a hated villain. I’d like something that allows that to be easily integrated into a larger combat. I built a dueling mechanic for our L5R Action Cards game. I worked decently the single time we’ve used it, but it hasn’t been stress-tested by any means.

Bases: This may sound odd, given my general dislike for building equipment or vehicles, but I like the idea of the group investing shared points into the resources of a base. What I don't like is systems with highly detailed rules for this-- including point costs for square footage and so on. Or even the old Warlord's keep structures from classic DnD (“Whee! Level 10! I get a Castle!”). I think these kinds of things ought to be abstract. The Angel RPG had a system of ratings for different aspects that I liked-- at least I think that came from the Angel RPG, but it might have been from one of the Buffy-verse rpg sidebooks from Eden. Changeling has some of this in the concept of a shared Hollow with resources that players can purchase. It is an aspect I like and if I see it, I usually try to take a look.

Social and Political Grand Scale: I think I mentioned this in [an earlier post on] the Weapons of the Gods Companion. While I'm not sure I'd ever use them, I like the concept of rules and structures to deal with these kinds of games. I remember the old Aria Worlds game which tried to deal with the evolution of civilizations. Impractical, absurd and strange-- but also fascinating at the same time. These kinds of rules approaches can develop good material inasmuch as they show what power structures and relationships exist within a society or group.

Reign does some cool things in this, but my go to has been Blood & Honor. I’ve used that as a structure, combined with concepts for modelling from Legends of Anglerre. The trick is to make these important and useful to the players- giving them control over development and choices. But if we’re going larger scale, to consider the really big picture, I think Microscope and Kingdom just plain works. Combine those with storytelling tools from things like DramaSystem, Durance, and The Quiet Year and you could easily craft a really interesting large-scale game that zooms down to the micro level and back.

Martial Arts Systems: I love seeing what people make of this-- from highly specific maneuvers with multiple rolls (ala Gurps MA) to delineated but looser feat blocks (ala True20 and the like) to simple lists of actions (ala Hero System). My problem now is that I've seen so many of these systems over the years that I immediately note the resemblances. I do love to look for the relative level of Wushu-y-ness of these systems though. I want a structure for MA that stays relatively loose-- but I'll read any of them, and there have been some bad ones (Enter the Zombie, some of the weirdness of Exalted where it goes into the highest level stuff).

Since I wrote this, I ran a wuxia campaign using my Storyteller hack- White Mountain, Black River. That went pretty well, but once we got deep into the game the complexity escalated; in part from my mechanics and in part from the base system. To build that game I went through other systems to see how they handled MA. In particular I went through the games from this post, Boot to the Head: Martial Arts Treatments in RPGs. I also looked at Qin, Spycraft, and several d20 MA approaches. Part of me wants to take some of the WMBR ideas and see if they’d work to do a wuxia version of 13th Age. I also have some new approaches I need to play out to see how they feel, in particular Jadepunk and Tianxia. I’ve also had Spellbound Kingdoms and Jadeclaw suggested to me.

Social Combat: I'm always curious about games which try to model social combat. I mean obviously you could handle it the same way as physical combat, but that seems to lose something. You have varying objectives, varying circumstances that might be even more difficult to model. Plus, once you go down the road of abstracting these kinds of interactions-- where do you stop? I don't think I'll ever use an involved system for this but I love to window shop. Both Burning Wheel and The Dying Earth RPG have systems for this. The former has all of the strange low-trust, low-detail problems of the rest of that game and the latter goes too far into paralleling the two kinds of combat. Dying Earth also suffers from some broken basic mechanics-- or at least mechanics which our play group didn't find palatable. I think there might be some things worth digging out of that game though (except that Pelgrane Press will lose their license to the material in the near future and make it OOP). I'd like to see more and fuller treatment of these ideas in the Legend of the Five Rings game-- that always seemed like a strange omission. Maybe they've done something with that in the newer books.

I think it is telling that I considered this a niche mechanic. I’m pretty happy with Fate for social conflict. I’ve found the addition of Composure Stress and the ability to push for Consequences & Concessions makes this a viable option. But sometimes it can be hard to maneuver players into taking that road and/or making it feel satisfying. Everyone usually builds themselves at least slightly for physical conflict, but more often we only get one or two players who’ve built for social. I’m also interested in looking more closely at how the various Apocalypse World games handle this. They seem to have all of these concepts baked into their DNA.


NEXT POST: I SAY STUPID SHIT ABOUT GAME MECHANICS AND AM OBLIGED TO CLARIFY AND REDACT MY POSITIONS.