Monday, November 1, 2010

Lessons from Reading: October's Thirty RPG Reviews

Taking Stock
So I managed to get done 30 rpg reviews in October; about four of those ended up below 1000 words-- most hit between 1100 and 1200. Here's my original plan and review bias statement. In doing the reviews this month, I picked up a few things and made a couple of decisions.

1. Changeling's Better Than the Rules
I reread all of my Changeling the Lost material. It was interesting to spot how many things I'd missed on the first read-through and how much had stuck in my head without my realizing it. I'd dropped a few plot threads into the campaign that I knew had come from somewhere, but I couldn't place where. Going through the sourcebooks, I spotted them. I also recognized how much cooler Changeling is as a concept, as background material, as fluff, as story within those books...than it actually is when you bear down and look at the mechanics. Those rules seem written to impose restraints and require look-ups for anything interesting. All of the individual clauses of the contracts have distinct mechanics and effects for the differing levels of success. That's emblematic of the game's basic problems with its engine.

I'm a little surprised that White Wolf went in such a crunch direction with the material for the new World of Darkness. I wonder what would have happened if they did a much more narrative-focus version of their game. I bet they'd have a harder time coming up with all of the splat books. There's a certain market push to having specific numbers and details- rules which each player has to buy.

All that being said, I think just based on ideas, Changeling the Lost's one of the best pre-made settings and concepts out there.

2. Building a Rome
If I end up running Rome, I suspect I'll have to approach through from a back door. It will have to be Roman-inspired fantasy. I mentioned my two ideas for a campaign early on and I suspect the Lunar one, borrowing from Glorantha will be the most likely.

Some people who write game materials have an unexpected approach. When I'm reading, I'm looking for how this material will look at the table. Some sourcebooks end up spending too much time providing the logic and the backdrop. As a GM I do want to have a good hold on the background so that I can logically and consistently improvise at the table. But I also want things which will directly affect play and provide plots and stories for my players. It think there's a balance which has to be struck. It's common sense but sourcebooks which cover a narrower period or aspect of history do a better job at coverage and accuracy. I think covering a classic period and then providing a section discussing differences in a few others might be a reasonable compromise. And most importantly the authors need to recognize they're writing a book for a game which will be played, and likely not be played by people with a serious grounding in the history.

Gene's provided me with an outline for a particularly interesting Roman period which has some appeal. If I did do a Alt History version of Rome, I'd probably borrow most from Cthulhu Invictus and Fulminata- perhaps with more steampunk or archaic tech to it. I don't know.

3. Should I Marry Gumshoe?
I still really like Gumshoe, despite the negative reaction of our group to the standard action resolution system. I'll probably go back to tweak that before we play next; perhaps hunt around for some other people's reactions. I want to make sure I've handled that system correctly. There's a ton of great stuff there and if I go to run Cthulhu or horror again, I know I'm going to have to use The Armitage Files. That concepts just too good to pass up.

I also have in my head at least one big new campaign frame using Gumshoe. I like the Quade diagram from Mutant City Blues and I'd like to consider how it might be applied to a game with magic. I can't settle on a frame yet however. The distinct flavors of different cultures might mean that it could work for a Roman game; or I could do something Victoriana like the Lord Darcy but with magic being a little more present; or I could go even more classic and have the PCs as city guard having to investigate cases. I like the idea of a spell-slinging version of the 87th Precinct novels.

4. Too Many Games
There are a lot of good games that I'd like to run as one offs, mini-campaigns or what we call “portals”. Time & Temp and Fiasco are probably at the top of that list. Nameless Streets does offer a way to play out Heroquest which I really want to try. I like the Edge of Midnight as well and I want to track down hard copies of those books. It reminds me a little of the old White Wolf Orpheus series. You could easily run that as a one-year juicy campaign with a pretty cool wrap up/reveal at the end. Too many games and not enough sessions...

5. What I Missed
I didn't get to everything I wanted to. I started working on notes for reading review of some of the Vincent Baker games, but I realized I'd need play those before actually saying anything about them. They're really interesting and certainly spark ideas for me. I missed a few others I'd hoped to write about: some freebie games, Summerland, Zorcerer of Zo, and the above-mentioned Orpheus for example. I also wanted to do a Castle Falkenstein overview, but didn't get to that.

What Next?
So October is done, and I'll move back to a three a week schedule, probably MWF since the numbers drop off on the weekends. I'm going to try to do a review a week, probably on Friday. I'll certainly entertain ideas for topic or things to review as people might have them (unlikely as its a pretty small blog). My other project is going to be a variation on NoWriPro or whatever it is called. Besides my other work, I'm going to set myself a goal of 1000 words new or 2000 words revised each day for our homebrew Action Cards. I really want to have a fully developed version of 3.0 of this by the end of the year.

Games I Reviewed in October (with Links)
Mutant City Blues
The Hard Helix
Trail of Cthulhu
Shadows Over Filmland
Rough Magics
The Armitage Files

Changeling the Lost
Changeling the Lost
Autumn Nightmares
Winter Masques
Rites of Spring
Lords of Summer
Dancers in the Dusk
Swords at Dawn
Goblin Markets

"Building Rome" Reviews
Roman Name Tables
Cthulhu Invictus
Eternal Rome
GURPS Imperial Rome 2e
Rome: The Life and Death of the Republic
Roma Imperious
Fvlmiinata: Armed with Lightning

The Edge of Midnight rpg
The Edge of Midnight
Warlocks and Detectives
Ghouls and the Underworld
The Naked City

Other Games
Nameless Streets
Time & Temp
The Day After Ragnarok
De Profundis