Sunday, March 30, 2014

On Last Night's Zounds Character Creation Session

Over oh his blog, +Mark Knights  offers an excellent mini-review of Zounds, the fantasy RPG by +Joshua Macy . I will be running the game Mark is involved with and would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the game a little bit as well.
As Mark mentioned, we did only do character creation last night. And, I’m okay with that. We were introducing new people to the game and familiarizing them with new concepts. Which reminds me, here’s a special call out to Mark and the rest of my players, +Keith Bailey+Robert Hanz+Lloyd Gyan+Jennifer Corniuk+Jonathan Henry, and potentially +peewee rota and others. If you’re looking back over your character, and you want to make a change, that is perfectly legit to do between game sessions. That isn’t just a house rule, but something right in the rules set. So, as Mark mention I gave him a little bit of grief over the generic, “back stab” power his character has, it’s perfectly fitting, but one of the other ideas he mentioned in his blog he might find more useful.

One thing that I really like about this game is the level of customization without having to spend hundreds or even thousands of points, doing math with some sort of archaic abacus to complete your character. It is also neat that you can make up a character in about five minutes or you can spend all week putting different tweaks and moving things around and the two characters may be very different, but still the same level. Thinking and putting more work into your character, if that’s what you like to do, allows you to draw some distinctions, but mechanically, they are no better off. And, that’s one thing that was cool to get my wife, Jennifer involved. She always comes up with these cool character concepts and ends up being disappointed. One of the following things inevitably happens in other systems:
  • She’s told “you can’t do that.”
  • “Yeah, we can do that we just need to figure it out” at which point she loses some amount of control and player agency in the character creation.
  • She is told that she must make choices—opportunity cost based decisions, if you will—where you can do this or that, but not both. Or, if she can do both, she’s not going to be great at either.

Zounds, and the whole SFX line encourages her creativity. The cool thing is, it wasn’t a matter of “how could we do this,” but rather “which way do you think works best for YOUR character?” It was a lot of fun and it’s the first game in awhile she hasn’t come back to me later and said kind of rubbed her he long way or quickly lost her interest. And, that’s just based on character creation. That’s a winner for me and, if you sit back and hear Joshua’s tale some day of how the SFX system came into being, you’ll see why it handles something like that so well.

As a note, I will be running this Sunday game and a Monday game regularly—two very different settings, but both still fantasy. More players are welcome, especially as I do expect people to come and go with it being an online game. So, if you’d like to get in on one of those games, create a character before or next session, or just learn more about the game, feel free to hit me up on Google+.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fate Core Venture City Stories Review

Venture City Stories is a supplement for the new Fate Core game by Evil Hat Productions. It is a 34 page book written by Brian Engard and edited by Joshua Yearsley. Tazio Bettin handled both the cover and interior artwork while art direction and layout was helmed by none other than Fred Hicks himself.
The book opens right up with describing Venture City, a Fate campaign setting designed mostly for street and city level heroes. Well, superheroes really, but not necessarily of the Justice League or Avengers caliber. The city itself is one of contradictions with vile villains and shining heroes. All of that amidst varying shades of grey.

I should point out that Venture City Stories calls itself an adventure toolkit rather than a campaign book. This is because it is filled with gaming goodness and ideas that you can pick and choose. Choose to play it wholecloth and you will find, once players have been introduced and decisions have been made, the world takes on a life of its own. And, that is part of the beauty of Fate.

Within the book, several example issues—otherwise, plot ideas or hooks are introduced. There are also a number of factions and descriptions of important places and people you’re likely to run into one way or the other in the fictional city. The issues are handled in Venture City Adventures just as they are within Fate Core, with the suggestion to select two immediate issues, two impending issues, or one of each. Some of the sample issues presented include: Not safe after dark, Are supers still human?, Gangland powderkeg, and Citywide blackout. There really isn’t any explanation for these issues and that’s okay. They are pretty self-explanatory and they are meant to get the creative juices flowing. So, if you’re looking for someone to plan out your entire adventure or even the beginnings of one for you, this isn’t where it is going to happen. There is one example where they take one impending issue and one immediate issue and show how the two work in conjunction to lay the groundwork for an interesting and exciting game.

Factions, places, and people are all part of the same section, although separated out. And, with so few pages, it makes sense. The Fate Fractal is toyed with here a little bit. Factions are defined not only by their descriptions, but by new aspects including the slogan and secret aspects. Factions also have up to six skills: Bureaucracy, Security, and Violence being three of them. Each of the Factions also include a location which includes a new issue. They also include people which could be villainous NPCs or supporting cast members. There isn’t a hard and fast rule on how the Factions should have their skills figured as far as how many points should be spent on them. That might have been nice to have, but figuring it is all relative, your group’s game might have various Factions with widely different skill spreads to show different levels of helpfulness or threat yet be completely different from someone else’s game’s Factions.

The book continues with the example setup used earlier to show how issues can be used, now adding in factions, places, and people. One thing I noticed is that Faction skills are represented numerically with +3, +6, etc. However, the people are rated by the adjective associated with their level of competency: Superb, Great, Good, Fair, and Average. I know this might look neat to a lot of people—something besides boring old numbers, but it is one thing I always disliked. Put the numbers in parentheses next to the adjectives if needs be, but give me the numbers to make it faster and easier, especially when I am someone who doesn’t play Fate all the time.

While the section on Factions, People, and Places is excellent background fodder, providing things to slide into your game and giving you some neat ideas, my main course is served up on page 23 of the PDF. Here, the team goes into talking about character creation and super powers. I don’t want to give away too much, but it is very well done. Powers are based on stunts from Fate Core, but they are also something much more. They go into detail on adding special effects, drawbacks, etc. This is topped up with yet more sample characters—all neat and original.

While this book is PWYW (Pay What You Want), I’d definitely say it’s worth more than the $0 many will surely put into the box. It is a great read and it is put together very well. It goes quickly, but I think, if you’re into this sort of thing or even just hacking Fate Core, you will find yourself turning back to this resource more than a few times in the future.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Adding on to SFX Zounds!

I am preparing to run a fantasy RPG using +Joshua Macy's excellent SFX! System Zounds! Now, if you haven’t heard of it before, you can download it for free from DriveThruRPG. He has created a handful of fine games based on different genres: Kapow! For superhero games, Zap! For SciFi games, ARGH! For modern horror games, and Zounds! For fantasy games. These are great fun, easily available for one shots and ongoing campaigns.
I plan on running an ongoing campaign through Google Hangouts. I may need to adjust the timeslot to get more people in the game, but that’s besides the point. I am lucky enough to have Joshua in my circles, so he’ll probably join in, which is always great to have a developer there if you’re looking at changing how things work. They can give you reasons why they did something the way they did or suggestions on how to make your change better. Also, if you have missed something already covered, they can point it out. Already, here I am looking at things that I want to be able to do in my game that isn’t necessarily covered in the book.

Influence and Reputation

To be fair, Reputation is listed as a suggested Asset within the Zounds! Framework on page 28. However, there is no follow up for it. I look at it as allowing characters to use in order to gain favorable outcomes from certain groups. Those groups might be a ruling council of elves or members of the secretive Thieves’ Guild. It might be used in combing powers to carouse, negotiate, or investigate. One thing I consider alongside this is granting XP specifically to be used toward increasing reputation or influence. Influence is pretty much written like rank, although for my own campaign, I’ll define the areas of influence and ranks in more definitive terms. The same can be said for reputation. I’m also considering looking at a way to “damage” either one of these assets. You overextend your influence or you lose face in front of a group that respects you.

Legendary Magic Weapons

What about weapons that level up with the character? Now, SFX! And Zounds! Already make room for doing this easily, permitting characters to spend XP in the form of Boosts on whatever they want really. However, once again, how about specifying XP toward improving special pieces of gear. It would work a lot like Magical Research, but wouldn’t necessarily be that. It might be a warrior meditating with their blade, or a rogue training with their lockpick tools. These are just ideas, but I think they are worth bouncing around.  The concept is not too different from D&D 3.5’s Weapons of Legacy.

Specialized Powers, Gear, and Boosts
This one is a bit odd. Because Zounds! Is already designed to be quite freeform both in character creation and advancement, it is near impossible to limit a character’s abilities. However, if a character has unlimited options, is it possible to have options that are limited to specific groups. Again, similar to D&D’s 3rd edition Prestige Classes, is there a way to allow characters to perhaps purchase packages that give some sort of discounted benefits or benefits that are unique to those who have met the proper requirements. It probably all falls under flavor and the Primary Rule of what makes sense and what fits the setting. For example, the Dread Knight package might have a Darkened Blade 6 power that allows them to attack Will instead of Toughness. Anyone else might have a Power that does the same exact thing, but is called something different and should also look different, but it has the same exact effect.

Changing Scopes

In most of the SFX! games, it is recommended that we use different scopes to indicate the overall power level of the game. I think, as with traditional fantasy RPGs, we need to be able to transcend scope a little bit easier. This gives the feel of leveling up like old school RPGs where you go from the peasant to the local hero to the brave knight to the cosmic champion.

These are some basic things I’m eyeballing right now. For those of you who have read or even played in a Zounds! Game so far, what do you think?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is 47 Ronin an Homage to Asian Themed RPGs

Over the past week, I was able to sit down and watch 47Ronin—the one with Keanu Reeves starring as a Tengu-raised hero turned samurai. While watching the movie, I could not help but thinking how much the story reminded me of a roleplaying game adventure. I do not apologize for the spoilers I am about to throw out there. Instead, I only warn that they are coming.

We start with a young hero from a mysterious past. He has no family to speak of and people believe he is at least part demon. He is adopted into an honorable samurai clan where his skills cannot be ignored, however, he is not of the samurai bloodline and is thus treated almost as a non-person. We see the kitsune/witch working with the enemy, Lord Kira. The would-be heroes are firsts tripped of title, rank, and dignity. During a year’s exile in a filthy pit, Oishi meditates and comes to a new understanding on the world and everyone’s place in it. He seeks out Kai, who has apparently levelled up a few times since we last saw him. The two go through a sword swinging, high leaping, random fire burning chase through an island of pirates and thieves before returning to the mainland and gathering and inspiring the rest of their forces. Watch the final battle and see how several pieces all work in conjunction with one another for it to work. In fact, it ignites most when someone just barely misses their roll on an archery check. We have magic. We have swords. We have larger than life heroes with a little bit of witty banter and a soul-wrenching ending. How is it not a roleplaying game set in Feudal Japan?

Okay, the legends may have been a little off. The armor and style of dress may have been overly contrived. Bottom line: there may have been some details that were less than 100% accurate. This doesn’t really change the enjoyment factor and only serves to make it more like an Oriental Adventures setting. One such campaign world I have only barely gotten to try out and look forward to playing more of is Heroes of the Jade Oath.

Rite Publishing Heroes of the Jade Oath

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RPG Review Thoughts
I was fortunate enough to read through a pre-production copy of an RPG this evening/morning. It looks like a fun game, but I realized a few truths about myself.

When I am reading something for a review, it's impossible to shut the editor off.

I really enjoy the art and like commenting on it (good, bad, or ugly) in my reviews. Taking that art away doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the product, though.

My mind works different than others. After going through several passes by several people, I was catching phrases that just caught me wrong. They read fine to all those other people. Yet still, I found issue with one here or there. And, even though it might be okay for the majority, not being okay for the few was bothersome to me. I want everyone to get the same thing from the book. I hate rules lawyers and I hate rules debates.

When I'm let in early on a project like this, I find myself considering myself part of the team in a strange way. I noticed my notes referred to "we" a lot, although I had nothing to do with the project. I sure hope that doesn't offend actual team members who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the product.

I can never seem to find a happy medium for fluff in an RPG book. There's either not enough or too much. Yet, somehow, none seemed to work just fine for a fast and easy read.

This is my first time doing an independent review where I've agreed to so many stipulations including an pseudo-NDA and agreeing to allow the publisher to review the article before it's to be published. Many of the terms were similar to my "work for hire" contracts, but my only pay here was an advanced copy of the pre-production. I'm not complaining, but that I did that kind of surprised me.
I think this will be a decent product and I'll let you know more when I can. I am excited to see it published in its final form and I am going to have a go at running it as well.

RPG reviews are important. You'll find a lot of goofy ones out there where people don't seem to have read what they are reviewing. Or, there are some people who follow their mother's advice. You know, "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all." I know a lot of people get free copies here and there and I do sometimes. More often than not, I'm reviewing something I spent my money on. I can be harsh, but it's rarely for the sake of being harsh. I want people to strive to do better. And, sometimes, my matter of fact nature simply comes across as being harsh.

I haven't had any hate mail yet, so I guess I've done okay there. Or, you know, I just haven't publicized my blog enough.

What kind of review realizations have you come across? Any fun review stories? Not so much of the product, but of the review process itself. Share them here, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fate Core RPG Weapons

Many have heard me drone on before about how I hate the fact that, in many games, a gun is a gun is a gun.If you’re into combat and martial arts and action movies and paramilitary/espionage RPGs like I am, that just doesn’t work. There is a reason someone picks what weapon they want for their characters and it’s not just based on because it looks cooler. That is to say, when you look at it like I do. Yes, surely sometimes, it’s just flavor. But to limit it to only flavor is a bit…meh, in my mind. So, what can I do with weapons in Fate Core? It turns out a lot, really. I thank the Fate Core G+ Community and especially +Robert Hanz  and +Jacob Poss for their guidance with this. And, admittedly, this would be better done if I collaborated more with the likes of them and +Jonathan Henry , +Robert Brumbelow , +Gerardo Tasistro , and +Douglas Cole if not for their familiarity with Fate, their familiarity and understanding of combat and a variety of modern weapons.

Diamond Edged Sword
Because the diamond edged sword is so sharp, it grants +2 to forcefully cut through objects.
The diamond edged sword is dangerous in the wrong hands.

Sniper Rifle
Because the sniper rifle is scoped, it grants a +2 to carefully create advantage when aiming.
Made for long range, not close quarters.

With various view options the multi-scope provides +2 to carefully overcome obstacles when aiming.
Delicate and expensive.

Full Auto Machinegun
Because it is capable of full automatic gunfire, the weapon provides a +2 bonus when trying to forcefully create obstacles with suppressive fire.
Great weapon, when it doesn’t jam.

Playing with Fate Accelerated

Fate Accelerated and Fate Core

I see a number of games coming out that offer an expansion to meet Fate Accelerated, but I am always reminded of a post by +Fred Hicks on how the two are not different games. Fate Accelerated tones down some of the options, but not by actually toning them down. Instead, it says if you want to know more about this or that, check out the thicker book (i.e., Fate Core). I have been wanting to try out Fate Accelerated for a while now and I finally got a chance the other night. I ran a game.

Now, not to blow my own horn or anything, but it sucked. I didn’t hit on a lot of the Fate-esque things. We barely touched aspects, compels, setting up advantages, etc. But, I did do what I set out to do. I got to see how approaches work. Now, admittedly, I do one thing a little differently. And, in talking with +Robert Hanz , it is probably better this way. The book for Fate Accelerated talks about players choosing which approach to use based on their description of the action. I submit, however, that the GM should be able to declare which approach is best based on the description of the action. Sure, players can and should suggest what approach they believe is best, but it should be finally decided upon by the GM.

As an RPG, Fate Accelerated allowed me to do some things that I’ve been trying to do for some time now. Take, for example, the modern espionage or GI Joe type role playing game. There are actually a lot of ways to do it. However, even with Fate Core, players are left having to play with modified rules or fewer options than usual, because you would expect characters who are all part of an elite military force to have certain skills and abilities. Want to try d20? Look at all the feats and levels one would have to acquire. Even the d20 spin-off Spycraft leaves you wanting as you could spend 10+ levels and never be able to make Snake Eyes. Savage Worlds has the same kind of flaws, but isn’t too far off, especially with rules modifications built into the system. Cortex Plus comes in as a close second.

Fate Accelerated, which still the same game as Fate, makes a difference with approaches. Here, the descriptors (or aspects) you give your character encompass a wide variety of skills and abilities. Where we would normally have skills and traits, we instead have approaches, which equate more to how our characters go about getting things done rather than what they can accomplish. This allows me to run a game of paramilitary specialists without having people feel like they are playing anything near the same character or spinning their wheels in an attempt to create the character they really want to play.

For fun, I’ve even created a handful of GI Joe RPG characters using FAE below.

Mutt & Junkyard

G.I. Joe M.P.
Which one is Mutt again?
Junkyard is meaner than Leroy Brown
Jungle warfare training
Spec Ops security specialist
Careful Superb  (+5)
Clever Good (+3)
Flashy Fair (+2)
Forceful Great (+4)
Quick Average (+1)
Sneaky Good (+3)
Because Junkyard is meaner than Leroy Brown, Mutt gains a +2 when creating an obstacle with his loyal companion.
Because Mutt is a Spec Ops security specialist, once per session, he can easily work around one security checkpoint or piece of security equipment without having to roll.
Stress X X X
Mild (2)
Moderate (4)
Severe (6)
Refresh: 3

Mercenary frequently allied with Cobra
If you can tell who did it, it wasn’t me
The Faceless Master
False Arashikage, true Koga
Always a way out
Careful Good (+3)
Clever Great (+4)
Flashy Fair (+2)
Forceful Average (+1)
Quick Good (+3)
Sneaky Superb (+5)
Because Firefly is the Faceless Master, he gains +2 to sneakily create obstacles whenever others are trying to discover his identity.
Because Firefly knows there is Always a Way Out, once per a session he can concede a conflict and manage to escape without further penalties.
Stress X X X
Mild (2)
Moderate (4)
Severe (6)
Refresh: 3

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Can Daring Comics Pull off a Fate Supers Game?

This morning, I awoke at an odd time and I did what I always do shortly after I wake up. I checked my email. Sitting there, in all its glory, was an announcement from +Rich Knight  that the Kickstarter campaign for the Daring Comics Role-Playing Game had begun. Those who know me know that I have a certain love for supers, RPGs, and the Fate system by Evil Hat Games. I was excited and decided to hop on over to the Kickstarter and have a look.

Now, those who have read my blog before know that I have a tendency to be a bit stingy with my money and harsh on those who ask for it. At the same time, I am the first to sing the praises of those who impress me. It saddens me to say that this particular project failed to do just that. I mean, there were some solid ideas presented along with the project, but there were also several concerns raised.

First, in the very beginning, there is an explanation for why the Kickstarter campaign page lacked the video that many of us have come to expect. It is understandable, really. Apparently, the artist had been paid to put the video together, but delayed and eventually pretty much vanished. It happens. If I had to count the number of artists—particularly comic book and RPG artists—I have seen flake out over the years, I’d be here all night. Okay, but why not have a backup plan? You’re a publisher, you’ve almost assuredly dealt with this before or at least know it’s a risk. You could’ve planned ahead. You could’ve come up with a plan B. You could have put together a video using a slideshow application and a microphone. But, that wasn’t done here. The project needed to get out the door so money could be made. So, what other excuses will we see during production and what other shortcuts will we take in the name of a product getting out the door.

As a writer, I know I am far from perfect. I often say that, as a writer, I’d have a fool for a client if I were to also serve as my own editor. However, there were some editorial issues with the Kickstarter. As a writer, I also hate being told “it could have been better” without anyone offering any specifics. And yes, this blog post could have probably been better, but I’m doing it for free, in my spare time, and not asking for any money. Take, for example, a line right from the announcement on G+: “But we didn't stop there, just as you can expect to see rules for building your own Stunts, we also provide you with the rules for building your own powers, special effects, and limits using the same basic Fate rules.” Why wasn’t “But we didn’t stop there” its own sentence. Okay, maybe I’m being picky and confusion grammar for stylistic choices, but things like that leave an annoying ring in my brain, like most people experience with nails on a chalkboard. “Heroes like you!” is great, but it lacks build up and connection. And, there are certainly more I could point out, but it probably is better to just say “it could have been better.” The Daring team didn’t ask for me to critique or edit every last word, and I’m not trying to pick on them here. Hopefully, they and others will understand I’m really just offering up some constructive criticism here.

And, let’s face it, when you read what they plan on doing, this is a massive project. They’ve spent two years working on it so far and have made adjustments to make it more compatible with the most recent version of Fate. Boasted features of the product include:

  • 100 pre-built powers
  • More than 100 special effects and limitations
  • Full color artwork
  • Series and settings creation
  • Sample archetypes to enable fast play
  • And more

It sure seems to be a massive undertaking. And, it seems to have everything I would expect and/or want from such a project. I’m actually a bit excited about it. But, these initial problems have me a bit concerned. The fact that this project was posted about 7 hours ago and already has more than 30 backers and $2000 under its belt says something to me. And, like Kickstarter advises, I do a little internet sleuthing. Their domain has been around since 2009, although the posts go back as far as late 2011 and refer to the previously successful Kickstarter project World of the Dead for Savage Worlds and this game here. The blog updates have been sporadic—mostly a week or two, but sometimes a month or two between. The Google Plus community had 88 members (now 89, because I do want to follow this). I’m hoping to see more activity here as there are a few earlier posts, but the ones related to the Kickstarter release talk about pricing or the video. The video isn’t considered a big deal. Then why open the Kickstarter page with it?!? And, it can’t be compared to the Fate Core pricing model, but why? I’m absolutely basing the value of this project off of related projects.

That being said, it is a bit pricey. For all they plan on adding, it might be a fair price. Let’s have a look at that. They have gone through the process before and learned at least one or two lessons the ahrd way, but they group seemed to keep people updated throughout the way—something we know not all Kickstarter projects do. There delays from that previous product didn’t seem too bad either. These are both good things.

They were apparently Arbor Productions which apparently made a name for itself, but since changed names. From a business perspective, this sets off warning bells—if the business was doing well, why change it? They boast of publishing close to 70 products, although it seems a number of these were part of the adventure series related to their last Kickstarter. That’s good, because they support stuff instead of run off roughshod from project to project and I can’t speak to the quality of those products because they’re in a line that simply doesn’t interest me or as to whether they should be considered 70 or so different products or really just mostly one big project that was released over time.

Looking over the provided artwork, it is decent. It isn’t anything stellar that reaches out and grabs me, though. For a supers RPG, I think it needs to do just that. And, once money comes in and artists can afford to dedicate more time, I would be hopeful that we’d see the work get better. But, it leads back to the part about the video—why not put the best foot forward right off the bat?

They also provided a brief into by gathering dev notes and putting them into a PDF. This was an interesting read. I seem some of the same stylistic and editorial choices that leave me a bit luke warm. They talk about the campaign scope and creating the setting. I was a bit let down that they didn’t deviate more from standard aspect creation for the super heroes, but that’s a personal choice, really. I dig the rogue gallery overview, but is that going to be too much work and turn off people that love the fast and easy way of Fate? They start using points to do skills and stunts and powers, which takes away the pyramid a bit. I don’t have a problem with this, although I’ve seen a number of people stomp their feet at the mere suggestion of such a thing. Powers definitely get a bit more complex as the discussion goes on, leaving me feeling less like I am looking at a Fate book and more like something from other systems, or at least a cross between the two. I get it, but am not totally sure I like it. To me, it fails to encapsulate Fate.

That was actually the deal breaker for me. I could possibly look past everything else. But, when I realized I was seeing something that was less and less Fate, I realized I have tons of supers RPGs that are not Fate already at my disposal.  It may end up being an awesome game, but I’ll have to wait and see once it is out rather than jumping on the Kickstarter bandwagon. I wish the team all the luck in the world. Not everything is for everyone, though, and I think we can all understand and agree on that.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Free RPGs for Better or Worse

Like a lot of gamers out there, my disposable income is limited. When a new RPG comes out a new roleplaying game supplement, I can get excited. Then, I take a look at my wallet and think—boy, I have to make some more money. For years, people have been putting out free RPGs, though. More recently, publishers—mostly independent, smaller publishers—have been putting games up for download as a product where you Pay What You Want.

Now, traditionally, these free roleplaying games have had a lackluster presentation. While they may have had some clever ideas, a great deal of them were merely house rules and settings changes for already popular, for-profit, published games. They were often done as a simple text or HTML file, sometimes converted to PDF. Artwork may have been non-existent, little more than stick figure drawings, clip art or cut and paste from public domain art. Some went as far to use art without permission or to ask artists if they could use their work in the free products. Without getting into the ethical debate about what art should or shouldn’t be used, things have certainly changed.

The popularity of digital publishing has made it easier for a lot more games to hit the market. Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding sites have made it possible for other, mostly higher quality games. More people have computers with even basic word processing software that is freely and easily attainable, so the production quality has increased across the board.

Meanwhile, if you know where to look, those games that are not put out for free can be downloaded for free. It really isn’t hard. And, there is research that indicates this helps the hobby. However, it is still frowned upon for all the right reasons. It is funny, however, to see people posting free to download or pay what you want pay schedules on unofficial sites instead of just providing a link to those official sites. Those official sites, like DriveThruRPG help publishers keep track of how popular their games are, even if they aren’t making any money. If a lot of people have downloaded your game for free, after all, maybe there is something viably profitable there. Could you hire better artists, put more time into research or editing, or unleash further products if just a percentage of the people who downloaded your game for free would be willing to pay for new updates?

Now, I’ve taken a look at a lot of games over the years. Some I would never play. It’s not that they are bad games—they just aren’t to my liking. I really don’t like Fiasco, for example, but it’s not a bad game. It’s just not for me. Over at my friend +Adam Dickstein's  blog, BarkingAlien, he put together a Muppets RPG that is quite sound. He actually does run the game, but it’s only format so far is right there on his blog. +Joshua Macy  has published the SFX! Line of genre-based games, and those are all free right over on DriveThru. Lady Backbird, while widely accepted and shared and spoken of in high regards, just isn’t a game for me. And, there are many others out there I simply haven’t found or had the chance to try. Hellcats and Hockeysticks seems absolutely hysterical and while I wouldn’t normally play that style of game, I want to try that one as soon as I get it.

My thoughts of the Pay What You Want were mixed at first. I figured that was, to many people, just another way to say “free RPG.” And, in a way, it is. I am one of those people who will download the games and pay $0.00. However, if the game is good, is something I would play, I will go back and download a fresh copy, paying for it the second time around. It’s like working at the comic book store when someone asks me what something is worth—“Whatever someone is willing to pay for it.” It might be $500 to you. But, that $500 is just sitting around on the shelf collecting dust. Is it worth $100 cold hard cash in your pocket?

If it’s free, where is the risk for you, the consumer? Some time lost skimming through it? Note: a lot of these new games are shorter rather than longer and you can get a feel for whether you like them or not more near the beginning than after reading cover to cover. You may find some gems out there that you really enjoy. I think it’s cool too, because these independent publishers haven’t grown too big for their britches. They take feedback and listen to what people have to say. They answer questions and they are a bit easier to get ahold of because they don’t millions of people trying to track them down.

What cool free RPGs or Pay What You Want RPGs have you seen out there recently?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cool Fight Scenes for Your RPG

I’ve been doing a lot of jabbering about fighting and doing cool stuff in RPGs recently. Anyone who saw my recent post about making a game more about what players can do and less about what they cannot saw one clip I shared from the cinematic trailer for Elder Scrolls Online. Yes, that’s the kind of stuff I want to see (or, at least imagine) during a roleplaying game. But, there are certainly others.

Awhile back, I first saw Now You See Me. It had a great cast of mostly up and coming actors and was a solid movie. I’d definitely recommend it for +Jonathan Henry or anyone else looking to run a heist style game. However, the main fight scene they had starring Dave Franco opposite Mark Ruffalo was awesome. I can totally see doing this with Fate Core. At the same time, I’m almost reminded of a well-flavored D&D thief, particularly DnD 4e. I like it, because we see no damage is being done really, but the characters are both fighting, working toward a goal. I don’t see that a lot in RPGs, but I wish I did—not only for the “damageless” combat, but the creative maneuvers.

Next up is a movie I saw some years back. Equilibrium is set in a dystopian future where emotion has been outlawed, because it is the root of all evil. Even fine art and music is contraband. Everyone takes a Prozac-like drug. But, it also brought in the “gun kata” which is funny and ridiculous in its own right (although, I have seen several firearms instructors speak as to how it could work in real life), but what is roleplaying if not fun, over the top, and unbelievable. The final fight scene here with Christian Bale and Angus Macfadyen has it all. A 45 in one hand, katana in the other, the maneuvers make for some visually stunning effects. I like this and want to see more of it in RPGs, because the fast paced action and complexity of the moves being able to be watered down mechanically to pull it off so we could actually envision this would just be awesome. Check out the beginning part where he slides the magazines across the floor strategically too. Tell me your favorite gun bunny shouldn’t be able to do that!

Now, I’m up for a good kung fu movie just about whenever there is an option. I happen to like Jet Li. In Unchained, he plays a prize fight who really only know how to fight. It was actually a very well done movie, though. The acting and script were good and it totally wasn’t what I was expecting. The cool thing about this martial arts flick, though was how a lot of the fighting was so brutal and animalistic. It wasn’t all style and form, but had a lot of street fighting in it. That was pretty cool and I think, when we have the brute that isn’t some sort of kung fu master, we forget how awesome and entertaining their fighting can be. That isn’t always the case, especially when there is a military guy in the group, but it often is. This compilation of scenes shows how awesome street fighting really can be made to look, and it’s worth keeping in mind for describing cool fighting stuff even if you aren’t playing some wandering sword master of the 9th clan of the 9th moon.

Along the same lines, checking out Fighting with Channing Tatum is worth it. It’s not a good script, but the acting is decent enough. The fight scenes are brutal. At one point, someone’s head hits a linoleum floor and I and about three other guys cringed at the sound when we heard it in the theater, because it was so spot on. That shit hurts, too. This level of realism, where getting punched actually hurts and—if you don’t do it right—can hurt your hand, where fighting leaves bruises and torn muscles—it makes sense and is something to keep in mind, especially for grittier campaigns and is a good reason many characters might avoid a fight, because—well, fighting hurts.

Now, there’s a lot of cool stuff out there and maybe you have some of your own you’d like to add to the list down in the comments. I know I could think of more, but there’s only so much room on the internet and all. Of course, with martial artists, action film buffs, etc., there tends to be more description that goes into the fighting. That’s been my experience, anyhow. And, there can come a time when that individual kind of steals the spot light. As a GM, I find it important sometimes to have them hold their thought when only part way through, so others can have a turn. There is a certain balance required here. It can be done. Let them start in, as it gets a little too long, ask them to hold on, because other players are acting at the same time in “fast paced combat” and all. You’;ll come back to them after others have gone or t least started to go. I’ve actually had it work quite well and the pause gives players a chance to modify and make their character’s actions even cooler, sometimes by playing what others in the group are doing.

To me, that’s a big chunk of what RPGs are—stories about cool people doing cool stuff. There are lots of variations on a theme there, but—I strong believe—if you’re going to do it in a game, you need to do it “awesomer.” It’s like +Robert Hanz  is always talking about framing the scene and making it interesting and I know +Joshua Macy  often talks about, if it isn’t interesting, why is it in the game?

High Tension, Fast Pace

This is something I know +Jonathan Henry and I have talked about at length before. It’s been included in our personal discussions as well as part of Giant Dragons Gamer Chat (if you haven’t checked that out before, be sure you do—a bunch of guys and gals sit around between 6pm and 9pm Wed thru Fri and talk about gaming). There is a certain bit of intensity that you get when you are in a dangerous situation or even when you watch an action sequence in a movie. A good writer can even make that tension palpable in a book. And, let’s face it, combat is an integral part to many a roleplaying game. Even if you play to the intrigue of a setting, there is typically going to be at least one combat in most RPG game sessions. Combat can be a complex process with square or hex grid maps, measurements, a variety of tactical choices, etc. It can also be relatively light and freeform. It seems that this combat is missing the adrenaline influx and blood pumping we get in other fast paced, high tension scenes. There is regular meta gaming going on while we discuss options and have side chatter. In fact, combat is often full of laughs and moments of awe when players make an unbelievable roll or come up with a cool idea. But, where is that ticking clock, stressful feeling we get from combat.

Okay, I know RPGs are supposed to be fun. And, I go so far to say if you’re not having fun, someone is doing something wrong. And, being in a death defying situation in real life isn’t fun. However, we have fun when we see these fights in a movie, read about them in a book. People have fun scaring the hell out of themselves on roller coasters and in haunted houses. People can have fun by raising their blood pressure a little, making game combat a bit more tense. But, how do you do that?

I know +Jerrod Gunning has times where he does a very disruptive and loud countdown—don’t call out your action within that three seconds and lose your turn. Some people hate that, some like it. Others use egg timers, set for a few or thirty seconds. It was even discussed to base a modifier on how long it takes someone to decide what to have their characters do. Others use cards, slapping them down quickly—almost like a game of Speed—to help keep things moving quickly.

Personally, I haven’t found a method that works for me yet. Maybe it’s because most of my games are so laid back. But, I’m interested to hear what thoughts others have and what others have used to keep the action tense, fast, and fun. Do I need to start playing the part of Sam Kinison or Bobcat Goldthwait to get people to sweat a little during combat? And, it’s not just for combat, but trying to make that swing across a bottomless chasm on a vine or being involved in a car chase or anywhere else our where we would be excited and doing things quickly in order to survive.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Yes, And...

Admittedly, I really struggled with coming up with a title for this blog post. I settled on a term that many gamers and GMs love to toss around these days. I can’t count the number of times +Jerrod Gunning  has used it while describing gaming and running styles. He’s also used numerous times in the handful of games I have been luckily enough to join in while he was running. Yes, Jerrod runs a lot of games, but my schedule tends to be a bit goofy. Anyhow, moving right along.

I was fortunate enough to sit in on a play test of D&D Next being run by +Tom Morris . I’ve had the playtest documents and played a few games, but everything had trouble getting off the ground. Tonight, I was a little late to join in the fun myself, but I was invited to sit back and watch. +Cavin DeJordy  was there with his natural impishness—he’s a lot more macabre in game than I remember. Then, +Shoe Skogen  was playing a character that was just downright brutal. +Lloyd Gyan was there with a proper and studious healer. The fray exploded early amongst these and other players.

I realized a few things here. Over the years, I have played an enjoyed a great many games—everything from Dungeons & Dragons Advanced Second Edition to Rifts (yes, I put them next to one another on purpose), Rolemaster, Fate, and so many more. Over time, my tastes have changed somewhat and in some cases, it was really because I didn’t know what I wanted. I found on more than one occasion I found an RPG I didn’t know I loved until I tried it, like asking someone if they enjoy chocolate when they have never had it. +Joshua Macy's SFX is a perfect example of this.

With DnD 3x, I enjoyed feats and skills, but it became clunky. I later experimented with +Mark Knights  running Pathfinder and I finally realized why I moved away from d20. D20 and DnD are built off a single, simple rule, a roll of a d20. However, there are literally hundreds of rules exceptions. Fate Core came out and I enjoyed it, but there was a lot of applications of rules—it was like peeling back an onion. With SFX! everything revolved around “does this makes sense?” Genius!

My point is, I’ve been trying a lot of games out over the past year and I have seen what I live versus what I don’t like. What I have really been doing is testing systems to see what they could and couldn’t do. I really wanted to push the envelope for what I was used to seeing in tabletop games. I wanted the high flying cinematics without having to memorize a thousand rules or find a way to make it work within a system—have it just work out of the box with just a roll or two, without and fudging or modifications. The cool trailers we see for video games—yeah, that’s what I want our characters to do…all…the…time.

Take a look here for a perfect example of what I mean (especially the archer dude near the end):

Watching this game of D&D Next get played, however, I was seeing the exact opposite. Testing out rules, you play a system as designed. You ignore the golden rule of gaming to “use what you want and discard the rest.” I heard more than once that the system simply wasn’t designed to do what the players wanted it to. Players pleaded with the DM for another player to be able to do something just because it would be cool. They worked something out, she did. It was awesome. They tried to encourage it to be more awesome and my take away line for the night was “There are no suplexes in Dungeons & Dragons.”

Meanwhile, I look at games like Fate where people are supposed to have fun making their characters and what their characters do “more awesome.” SFX is build the same way. The difference being in Fate, there are some pretty solidly established ways to do things. In SFX, you determine your desired end result and roll for that, everything else is just window dressing. +Adam Dickstien has a modified version of D&D he’ll hopefully run for me soon that, every time I hear about it, it makes me drool. He says that your characters are supposed to be mythic fantasy heroes. Meanwhile, D&D is often built more around what you can’t do.

At the same time, I heard a lot of meta gaming going on in the D&D Next play test. The healer of the group was trying to figure out how many hit points his companions had so that he could do cool stuff. Fate suffers from this a bit as well, as you make decisions based on Fate points. That’s thinking out of game. As Macy will tell you, just as in SFX, gaming should be done from the character’s perspective. What would they do or what would it make sense for them to do in certain situations? You shouldn’t be worried about this otherwise non-existent arbitrary facets that are included by the rules. Now, I still like to roll, so I’m not a diceless roleplaying guy. I don’t enjoy Gossamer & Shadow or Fiasco. I do, however, enjoy being in the moment and not worry about how many HP or or power points my character has and dealing with some archaic, otherwise intangible currency.

So, “yes, and…” makes a lot more sense to me now than it did way back when. I’m seeing the flaws in the games I grew up with. I still enjoy them for what they are, but I also find myself looking toward what else there could be. I have taken situations and videos to GMs and designers from different games. How would you do this with XYZ system? I get answers like it can’t be done or that you have to either ignore certain rules or follow a laundry list of rules that add so much table rolling, you can easily get lost. Then, I also get answers like “that’s easy, just blah, blah, blah.” So far, however, the only one that has really held true and made sense for me is SFX’s rule of “does it make sense.” Trying to work that into other games now, and I’ll have to see how the players respond to it, because it does require a certain bit of arbitrary ad libbing. And, even I am one who likes codification. It is an interesting conundrum with two diametrically opposing forces needing to play nice with one another.