Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RPGaDay 2017 Pt. 1: Wulin to House Fires to Stuffed Animals

Question for a Fictional FAQ: Lowell, is there a way to "cheat" at blogging? 

Dear Imaginary Questioner, 

Thanks for asking that so I can make a weak joke. Yes, there is. On the one hand you could revisit earlier posts with new commentary about how your tastes have or have not changed. On the other, you could bundle together all of your #RPGaDay 2017 responses from G+ for a 'round-up' post.

As my writing students would say, "Waa-Laa"

Day 1. Which published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
If we’re talking about a game I’d like to play—not run, then I’m going to have to go with Weapons of the Gods. That’s an older Eos Press Wuxia game, using a strange Hong Kong comic books as its licensed source. Eos re-released it as Legends of Wulin, with the licensed setting stripped out. It features several designers, including Jenna Moran. It’s also opaque as f*ck.

It’s impenetrability is different than Nobilis or Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Machine. It simply has so many moving parts. Some of that’s really excellent. The Loresheet system is worth borrowing for any rpg setting. The core book provides brief write ups on hundreds of elements of the setting (individual religious philosophies, different clans, ghost stories, marriage, legends, etc). But these aren’t just static info dumps. You can buy your character into these things—tying them to those stories or themes. It monetizes the setting in a way few other games do. 13th Age’s Icon mechanics feel the closest to me.

The martial arts combat system’s involved. I mean seriously involved. To help players out they released an example of play featuring a duel between two characters. It was at least ten pages long. It sounded awesome, but beyond my skillset.

So I pick this one because I’d be playing—which assumes that someone who actually understands the game would be running. So maybe I could finally grok the rules.

I love wuxia stuff—I have many, many wuxia rpgs (like Dragon Lines, Qin, Kaigaku, Hong Kong Action Theater, Feng Shui, Swords of the Middle Kingdom, Tianxia, and even my own hack White Mountain, Black River). But I haven’t yet hit one that really clicks for me. I’ve worked on PbtA and Lady Blackbird hacks to simulate that feel but haven’t completed those. Tianxia’s my next closest runner-up, but there’s something about the sheer madness of Weapons of the Gods that grabs me.

Day 2: What is an RPG you would like to see published?
The easiest answer would be that I want to finally get my own game Action Cards, out there in some form. That has challenges—being card-based with unique decks used in odd ways means scripting that in Roll20’s a pain. So it isn’t as useful online, despite being a joy f2f. So let's leave that aside.

What I’d really like to see published are real rules-light alternatives for some of my favorite settings. I talked about this a little this week on the Gauntlet Podcast. I’ve run four sessions of my PbtA hack of Changeling the Lost. That’s the fourth system I’ve used to run CtL. I tried World/Chronicles of Darkness but couldn’t stand the density, how much the mechanics shaped play, and the granularity of rules. I wanted something lighter, but still tuned to the elements of the setting.

Storyteller Adventure System’s probably the closest to the kind of approach I want. Onyx Path uses a stripped down version of the house system, primarily for quickstarts and adventures. It isn’t bad. But it’s more generic than I’m looking for. I want a lighter system that takes into account the play and options of the original. We’ve also seen Savage Worlds and GURPS adaptations. But the former isn’t my bag and the latter’s too crunchy for me these days. (I know I’m being stupidly picky, but it’s my fantasy pick…).

That’s what I hoped Shadowrun: Anarchy would be. But it bolted a strangely lackadaisical resolution system to weirdly bland crunch. It had the additional problem of poor editing and presentation. I wanted to love SR:A, but it didn’t click.

So what I really want is this: parallel alt-system rpgs approved by the company itself, using Fate or Powered by the Apocalypse. Commission someone to do an adaptation or license it out to another group. These’ wouldn’t be fully parallel—we wouldn’t have new versions of every book. Instead it would focus on a core book with conversion notes. That sells another main book (with reused arts & assets) and gives new gamers a reason to pick up the existing books for background and ideas. Maybe you’d expand the line with a Player or GM supplement and a Foe book. But you wouldn’t go beyond that to cannibalize the original line.

If you’re delivering an interesting world, players of the original will buy it for the new mechanics and those of the new for the setting.

I want to professional quality, Fate or PbtA, licensed adaptations of the following settings: Changeling the Lost, Mage the Ascension, Iron Kingdoms, Fading Suns, Night’s Black Agents, Demon the Descent, Scion, Exalted, Shadowrun, and Legend of the Five Rings.

Is that possible? Oh god no. This will never happen. For one thing, I imagine the potential audience for this kind of thing would be small, even in an industry of tiny sales numbers. It would also require uncertain work—yes you could reuse art, but you’d still have to craft and playtest something from the ground up. You’d also have to pull the trigger on one lite system over the other, if we’re going with my choices.

But stripping down and simplifying these settings and mechanics presents the greatest barrier. As Alberto Muti smartly pointed out in his Day 1 answer, some of the awesome in these games comes from the sheer density of things. He mentioned Exalted in particular. A re-design using one of these systems makes major assumptions about where the “fun” is. One person’s thoughtful campaign of Mage as an examination of shared reality doesn’t necessarily operate in the same space as a fireball throwing battle against the Technocracy. Just picking Fate or PbtA dramatically shapes the game—are we competent or f*cked from the beginning?

So I suspect we’ll have to stick with fan-made conversions, like Tommy Rayburn and John Layton's World of Darkness conversion of various WoD elements to Urban Shadows. These are others offer awesome alternatives.

Day 3: How do you find out about new RPGs?
Since I rarely go into game shops these days, I have to rely on online sources. G+ does a pretty good job of providing me with heads up about new and interesting things—especially when folks spot sales or a new Kickstarter release. I appreciate G+ materials because folks will usually post either their impressions or an inquiry about it (which then generates comments with info). That’s how I found out about and picked up Mutant: Year Zero. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been on my radar. When Modiphius first released their new Star Trek pdf, they had a sale on it which someone shared. I bought it and I’m really glad I did.

The Gauntlet Community’s also been a solid source, particularly of new Kickstarters. Patrons get access to the Gauntlet Slack. There’s a KS channel and users will post interesting projects there. That’s usually accompanied by everyone drilling down to take a look at what the game offers, the art, and the sample pdf if any. That helps tell me if it’s something I want to follow up on. As well folks in the Gauntlet play a lot of games, so they’ll often post about their experiences. Again that usually tells me if it’s something I want to follow up on.

Publisher notices sometimes help—that’s what got me to pre-order most of the recent 13th Age products and put Cthulhu City on my radar. More importantly I have Drivethrurpg’s new releases in my RSS feeder. I check that every couple of days. Usually that’s a lot of stock art, maps, small releases, and things I’m not especially interested in. But other times I’ll spot something I would have missed otherwise (like with Legacy: Life among the Ruins).

Day 4: Why RPG have you played most since August 2016
Like +Donogh McCarthy I appreciate the tracking power of RPGGeek. Here's my top ten...
  • Action Cards (32) No surprise there. This is our homebrew which I run for several face-to-face campaigns. I ran a Middle Earth campaign with it and I also have my ongoing Ocean City Interface multiversal game. That lets me try several different rules variants.
  • Mutants & Masterminds (3rd Edition) (26) This is pretty much all our Wednesday online group campaign. This was the fourth M&M campaign arc in our DC/Marvel/Kitchen Sink setting setting and the first one with this edition. Didn’t care for it.
  • Mutant: Year Zero (21) I love this system and setting. We did a full f2f campaign, ending with the Ark confronting their past. I expect that group will eventually play the sequel, Genlab Alpha. I also ran four sessions for the Gauntlet Hangouts.
  • Fate (9) This is mostly my Dresden Files Accelerated gaming, three sessions online and five f2f.
  • Godbound (8) Exciting to see this on the list. I have an ongoing fantasy hexcrawl f2f game of this. I also used this for an online reskin of Scion.
  • Masks: A New Generation (8) +Richard Rogers ran a six session campaign of this which felt solid. I also used it for two sessions with a Zombie Apocalypse frame. That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but I’m going to try it again.
  • World Wide Wrestling (8) That’s pretty much all of my Gauntlet League Wrestling campaign. I love this and need to run it more. I’m doing several sessions for GauntletCon in October.
  • The Veil (7) Such a good game. It generates amazing world and character details. Easy to set things up and see how they play out. I ran two sessions online which taught me a lot about how to approach it. I did one session at Origins with some revised one-shot sheets I’d created. But the best experience has been running this for my niece and nephew. It’s completely unlike anything they’ve ever played. They like the internal struggles, the tough choices, and their impact on the setting.
  • 13th Age (6) If I’m going to do trad or pseudo-trad fantasy, it’s probably going to be 13th Age. I love this game. I get some combat crunch without it feeling like a slog. Fun monsters and easy to get mechanics.
  • The Sprawl (6) The polar opposite of The Veil. A mission-driven, mostly external exploration of characters. It is brutal and action packed without having to dwell on crunch. I’m amazed how well this plays once you get a handle on it. I’ve also come close to killing each PC at least once, many several times. 

Day 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
Mutant: Year Zero-- Here’s a cover that’s striking and tells a story through visual details. These characters aren't exactly human—we get that from the title, but the image reinforces that. They’re slightly off—you might not notice their inhumanity immediately. The figures stand central and active-- these mutants aren’t the enemy; we’re playing the mutants. The cover shows that this isn’t exactly a Mad Max setting; there's some strangeness. But it isn't gonzo—these aren't the characters of Gamma World, Mutant Epoch, or MCC. That’s important as well.

We see them exploring the ruins, a key element of the game. One has a gun held out, but they’re not overly aggressive—they aren’t blasting things. They’ve had a hard walk and the world’s rough. These characters aren't covered with high tech equipment, instead we see repurposed objects (like the diving helmet). They also aren’t armed to the teeth—covered with bandoliers and bullets. We can see that weapons and ammo are scarce and important. (When you search for post-apocalyptic art it’s actually harder to find images without tons of bullets and guns).

MYZ tells a tale in color, positioning, and details. It works for me.

As an aside, Tales from the Loop (also from Fria Ligan) tempted me because it has such a striking image. But I don’t think the cover necessarily sells what the game’s actually going to be. I think it makes it look a lot more aggressive than it is.

Day 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!
I already do this. Here’s a week from July: Monday: Bloodshadows, Tuesday: Dresden Files Accelerated, Wednesday: The Sprawl, Thursday: Masks (TGIT Gauntlet), Friday: Blades in the Dark, Saturday: Action Cards, Sunday: Changeling PbtA in the morning and The Veil in the evening.

Day 7:  What was your most impactful RPG session?
Probably the first one on one session I played with Sherri. She’d been playing in my GURPS Fantasy campaign for a while, but she wanted to do some more stuff with her character. So I had her interact with some of the NPCs for an evening while we painted. She pushed one of them to try to make amends with his estranged sister. And freaked out a little when it didn’t go well, with the archmagus sister burning down a building on them out of spite. It was Sheri’s first real chance to really dig into the characters of the game world—and we both loved it.

Day 8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?
I ran several sessions of the Threadbare Quickstart at Gen Con last year and it worked well. You could do character and concept creation in 30 minutes and then play out a hugely satisfying adventure. Every session worked—and went in wildly different directions. A great pick up and play rpg.