Friday, November 25, 2016

Games I'm Thankful For: A Companion List

Last week I posted about things I liked/wanted in games. Though it’s late in the day, late in the Thanksgiving week, I wanted to offer a list of games I’m thankful for. I’ve hunted down games which do those things. They aren’t the only ones, but they’re good examples. I’m listing these in parallel order to the original list.

Giving a Clear Statement of Purpose
Paul Beakly has already pointed this out, but Coriolis has a strong, clear statement of what we’re doing: theme and kinds of play. It works. It does that in under a page and it's one of the first things we read. 

Setting Things Up
Cryptomancer does a great job of this. It sets things up on the first page: explaining that we’re going to be doing info-sec intrigue mixed with standard fantasy. It acknowledges the expected elements and points us to what we need to know.

Saying How You’re Different
A couple of superhero rpgs tell you right away how they stand out in this crowded genre. Less skillful rpgs only refer to a “new comic universe” or “my new approach to powers.” The best quickly make clear what we’re dealing with. Base Raiders and Rotted Capes show you their take on the genre straightaway. “Superpowered Dungeon Crawling” was enough to get me to check out the BR book. And RC gives you it in the title.

Writing Clear Blurbs
Pelgrane consistently delivers clear ad copy. For example, the Night’s Black Agents page on DriveThru has a grabbing narrative. It then breaks that up from the more mechanical description with an image. It's an awesome overall hook.

Non-Boobalicious Cover
Since I don’t want to be negative, let me point out a recent cover I dig: the new 7th Sea. It’s a fairly trad image in many ways with heroes battling against a massed foe. But in the center we have a female and male figure, relatively equally weighted. They’re both strong and command the scene. It doesn’t need any additional boob armor or bare midriff to sell itself.

What Dice Do We Roll?
I’d say more games do this than not, making it especially irritating when I do have to hunt down what dice we need. ICONS Assembled has a quick list of materials you need- making it clear that everyone will need a pair of dice, and that’s all you’ll need.

How You’re Adapting an Existing System:
The Sprawl builds on PbtA, but unlike some PBtA games. In the introduction, it points readers to key elements they may want to check out. It doesn’t go into detail about the changes, but instead points players to what they need to know. I like the tone here “when I’m checking out new PbtA games, here’s what I look for.”

Don’t Box in Text:
A few games use bounding lines in a way that works for me. Tianxia: Blood, Silk, and Jades one of the best. It uses a set of simple, geometric lines: similar to some Chinese architectural details. It reflects the setting and matches the colors. Those lines frame the chapter title at the top and the page number at the bottom. But they also stay out of the way. The page design feels open without seeming like there’s less text on the page. It illustrates Daniel Solis and Ruben Byrd’s chops.

Careful With Page Backgrounds
Several games offer both a printer friendly and a standard version. Moonicorn vs. SpaceWurm takes this approach, as does Godbound. That’s awesome. In Godbound’s case the page backgrounds in the full-color version don’t get in the way of reading. It looks decent on my tablet screen and it makes the printed version pop.

Break Up Text
World Wide Wrestling has a lot of information, but it doesn’t feel intimidating to me. It has good use of headers and callouts. The design’s consistent across both book.

Have an Index
13th Age has one of my favorite indexes. The index includes the glossary. Since I’m often searching for what a particular term means this helps immensely. And it doesn’t get in the way of the index itself. Several 13th Age products have multiple indexes (the treasure book, for example, has an index by item type and by associated Icon).

Game Summary for Players
Few games offer a player-facing quick-sheet you can distribute to give them the background. I like Glorantha’s “What My Father Told Me” for an quick & rich insight into a culture, but it still requires having a grip on the greater world. Legend of the Five Rings has solid archetype pages explaining particular clans, but not a summary sheet. I think perhaps the new playbook-centered approach comes closest to what I want. For example those from Urban Shadows give you a nice overview and a sense of the tone as a whole. You can give a quick spiel, read out a sentence or two for each playbook, and get building. Mutant Year Zero does this as well.

Pre-Gen Characters
I love that Feng Shui 2’s entirely built on pre-gens and tons of them. Each one seems more awesome than the last. It gives you all the info you need, some choices, some hooks, and boom you’re going.

Quickstart Adventure
Far and away, my favorite quick-start adventure is Auspicious Beginnings. That’s for Weapons of the Gods, a crazy wuxia rpg. I own it but can’t make heads or tails of it. WotG defies my understanding. It has some cool ideas, but overall I can tell I wouldn’t dig the crunchy play at the table. Despite that, I’ve run Auspicious Beginnings three times using different systems and reconfiguring the premise. It sets up a great situation, with several distinct choices for the players. These make a huge difference in what they actually see in play. They also slowly introduce mechanical concepts: basic resolution, complex tasks, combat. It’s amazing and I recommend checking it out. Everyone loves a contest-focused adventure.

Diverse Art
Legacy: Life Among the Ruins has some of the best and most varied art I’ve seen. It helps create a richer and more interesting world. When I look at the pictures I ask myself: what’s the story here? What’s going on? I love that. I don’t just gloss over the pictures with the usual ho-hum of macho action or tentacle whatever.

One-Page Character Sheets
Several people- smarter people than I- disagreed with this. I can see their point. They like two-page sheets. A second page allows you to record equipment, spells, and secrets. OK, I can see that and agree that has value. But please, no more than that. My favorite simple character sheet comes from Hollowpoint, the fan-created ones that look like toe-tags.

Avoid Repeating Starting Sounds
Even the classic D&D set has this problem (Con and Chr). It’s not a big thing, but can be important. I suspect Evil Hat pays attention to this. The approaches for Fate Accelerated each have a distinct initial sound. Fate Core has 18 default skills. That list keeps it to pairs of starting letters, no more than that. You can see that in other games they’ve published.