Tuesday, 12 December 2017

"My Kid Wants D&D, What Do I Do?"

Either Wizards of the Coast have done a good job promoting the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons or Stranger Things got it into everyone's head, because a bunch of people have asked me about getting D&D for their kids this Christmas. 

"You know about this stuff, Dave. Where do I even start?"

Good question! If you've never played a tabletop Role Playing Game before, guiding your child into the hobby could feel like anything from confusing to terrifying. Luckily, I have your back!

Philippe Caza

There are actually a lot of games that give you a great RPG experience. Some of them are even specially designed for young people. Despite that, I'm going to suggest starting with the fifth and current edition of Dungeons & Dragons for a few reasons. Everyone who has contacted me has had their kids ask for "D&D" by name. They want something that says "D&D" on it. As the former kid who received a Tandy COCO II from Radio Shack instead of a Commodore 64 for Christmas like everyone else, I'm telling you it's best not to disappoint them with an almost what they asked for. (Don't worry, my parents don't read my blog. Their feelings are safe!) The other thing is D&D has always been something of a lingua franca of roleplaying. Because it is so ubiquitous in the hobby almost everyone has some experience with it and can relate what they are playing to it. It's also the most popular game so it's easy to find other people to game with. The last reason is they've went to a lot of trouble to make it easy for new players to pick up the game without someone helping them through it.

 The best place for a new player to start is The D&D Starter Set box. It has a stripped down version of the rules with a set of sample characters to play and one of the best starting adventure campaigns ever! They can open the box on Christmas, read through it, choose someone to run the game and be playing as early as that evening (although Boxing Day is probably a more reasonable expectation). Everything necessary to jump in and actually play is in the box, including the funny dice. It's carried by some book and gaming stores, but it's also available to order on Amazon and Chapter's Indigo.

Each player controls a character who is an avatar in the shared, imaginary world of the game. One person is going to need to take the role of the referee who adjudicates the rules, runs all the people in the game not played by the players, and presents the problems and situations for the players to solve with the resources of their characters and their wacky ideas. This referee is know as the Dungeon Master or DM. The series of adventures in the box helps a new DM get the hang of running all these things with a great advice and explanations.

The adventure, called The Lost Mines of Phandelver, has a series of locations that the players can interact with in any order they like as they figure out what is going on in the campaign area. This is important because it introduces the idea of player choice to everyone playing. The fact that the players can do pretty much anything they want is what makes a tabletop RPG so much better than a video game. 

Everything in the D&D Starter Set box

To continue playing after they are done with what they get in the box they will need more rules. The Basic Rules are available online for free with a guide for both the Players and the Dungeon Master. These will allow them to create new characters and adventures of their own that can keep them going for years. As much as I love how the ease this creates for entering the hobby, I think it is worth spending some more money on a hard copy of at least the Player's Handbook. Dead tree books are easier to reference at the table than tablets and you can roll dice on them without scratching a screen. 

The Player's Handbook for D&D has all the rules and offers all the possibilities needed to create characters to suite the imaginations of the players in straightforward steps. It's fairly easy to get. Most book stores carry it and you can get it on Amazon or Chapters in a couple of days.

At this point you are up to nearly $60 in stuff, but if you are sure your kid is going to love it and you want to spend money on things that fit neatly on a shelf, there are a couple more things you can look at right away.

The first is not made by the D&D people, but one of their competitors. It's compatible with D&D and has a great deal of value beyond the adventure itself. Broodmother Skyfortress is an adventure in the first half of the book with all kinds of options to tailor the adventure to their taste. It is amazing! The second half is full of advice on how to create campaigns, settings and run adventures. The advice is super useful to a DM new or experienced. The other wonderful thing is the Jack Kirby, 1960s comic book style art is a nice contrast to what you get in the D&D products and might help them think outside of the box. It's from a publisher in Finland called Lamentations of the Flame Princess but is also available in a few days on Amazon.

After that you might want to look at the Monster Manual or Volo's Guide to Monsters for them but it's not necessary. Save them for a birthday! 

To make playing easier you could look at player tokens or miniatures. Painting miniatures is a whole other part of the hobby that comes with its own costs and entry hurdles. If people ask me about that I'll do another post, but for now I'll give you some resources for paper miniatures. These can be printed out on a home printer and used as needed to help the players keep track of where everything is when they are playing. They aren't necessary, but I found with my girls that when they were younger (6-8) having miniatures helped them engage with the game.

Paper minis slid into plastic slotabases. They could have as easily been glued to some cardboard. 

One of my favourite sites for these is Eddnic's Fantasy Paper Minis. They can be printed and folded to create all kinds of monsters to help run encounters! It is possible to find these with some time spent on Google or Pinterest with a simple search for "fantasy paper miniatures" if you have the time. If you don't you can buy PDFs of different printable miniatures for a few dollars (a good use of someone's allowance maybe?) and download them from DriveThru RPG. I'm a fan of the Disposable Heroes and Trash Mob Minis. 

Click image to see more detail. 
These are the characters from the web series JourneyQuest and film The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. :)

After that they'll want more dice. To keep them for stealing all the normal dice out of your boardgames you should probably buy them a set or two at some point. This is another thing that there is no rush for. You can buy them in comic shops and order them online. I know a guy with an online dice store that can get you a great deal with free shipping (not in time for Christmas)!

If you are wondering about the benefits of RPGs as a hobby for children, it is a social game that helps develop problem-solving skills, creative thinking, imagination, vocabulary, math skills and teamwork. There are all kinds of benefits so if they want to do it there's no downside. After 35 years of gaming I have no regrets for the time spent. My involvement in RPGs has allowed me to meet some incredible people and is a part of some of my longest lasting friendships. 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Wonder vs Weird

The idea of Wonder verses Weird is one I've struggled with for a long time.

Kiel Chenier of Dungeons and Donuts fame started a thread on G+ back in March of 2015. He was talking about how the OSR seems to be caught up in the pursuit of the weird. According to his post old school gaming seems to be reaching toward more uncomfortable material and going for the ick factor while chasing the weird. What he's looking for from a gaming experience is wonder. The feeling of being taken aback by a scene and momentarily stopped by awe.

Wonder is a great thing to aim for in gaming but it's much harder to achieve than weird. I'd say the two of them are solutions to the same problem with most fantasy RPG material.

The majority of fantasy RPG material made in the last 40 years is based on the tolkienesque assumed setting of Dungeons and Dragons. There are certainly exceptions, but most fantasy games have the humans, elves, dwarves and halflings defending civilization against the evil creatures like orcs and dragons. These games influenced and inspired writers in the fantasy genre, entrenching these assumptions as "traditional fantasy" in RPGs and all kinds of other media like books, films and video games.

This common ground certainly makes entry into the hobby a bit easier since there is so much less explanation required. An introduction can be as short as saying the game is just like whatever movie, TV show or video game the person is familiar with that makes use of the common fantasy tropes and that's it. One sentence explanation. That easy summary has it's advantages, but it saps a lot of the wonder that comes from exploring something completely new.

That's not to say there was never wonder in D&D. I can remember opening up my Mentzer Red Box in total amazement at the scenes and creatures inside. I've seen that same look of wonder when I used the old Basic and Expert books to see if my daughters would want to play an RPG. They were blown away by what they saw and excited to explore the new world it showed them. The points of light in the "known world" setting worked well in terms of developing that sense of wonder as well. Civilization was in small pockets, slowly expanding into a wilderness full of monsters, ancient secrets and wild wonders. It's important to note that when I first encountered D&D I had not read any tolkien or his imitators. My exposure to fantasy by that point was small. Mostly books by Ursula K LeGuin and "historical" fiction with fantastic elements. I also read every Greek, Norse or Celtic myth and legend I could get my hands on. The only fantasy films I'd seen were Excalibur and Legend. When it came to D&D I took it all in like I was starving. Soaking up the elements of  Vance, Leiber, Moorcock and even Tolkien with all the wonder my ten-year-old brain could muster.

I started this post while musing about introducing a couple of brand new players to the RPG hobby and dealing with the pretty serious problem when it comes to wonder. As uber-geeks who have consumed all the fantasy and sci-fi pop-culture can provide there is little in the D&D multiverse that they haven't been exposed to at least in some part before. They had their players' handbooks and they'd read them cover-to-cover. The game itself held a sense of wonder in that it was a new experience and they have nothing on which to base expectations. They knew it has rules so they can count on it being something, but they can't know what that something is until they've tried it out and become familiar with it. If role playing is the novelty then they are likely to jump from campaign to campaign, and game to game and ultimately system to system looking for that feeling again. We played for the better part of a year before life got in the way. There was wonder as they explored the world and tried different things. The fact there was no edge to the map, that adventure could be found almost anywhere as long as they interacted with the world it would present endless possibilities to explore.

When I started playing D&D, and when I start any new campaign, the wonder comes from the world itself. A world with its own set of rules can hold its own wonder. Learning those rules, exploring the world for more surprises can provide all kinds of fun. But the more the world conforms to expectations, the more the players need to delve into the edges and dark corners to find something new, something that has its own set of rules.

That's how games like Call of Cthulhu and Lamentations of the Flame Princess build the impact of the adventures. They don't even try to provide wonder in the setting. They've given up that fight as unwinnable and built their world into the shadows of the one we have here. That's the foundation of the weird. It disrupts expectations instead of creating new ones. It changes and tears at the rules and assumptions. It also tends to be terrible in some way. The weird revels in the tension it creates but it needs the mundane as a contrast. Tension needs the norm to pull against.

Wonder is something different. It doesn't need to be grounded because it does't rely on tension. Wonder inspires awe. Lovecraft did it with his Cyclopean columns in the ancient ruins of unknowable peoples. Carroll did it with the dream-time logic of Wonderland. Fantasy and sci-fi has always had graceful or delicate towers reaching into the sky and strange people with customs that need to be unravelled to be understood.

Goblins, orcs and elves present little mystery these days. Even the fresh takes on the old themes are grounded in the common expectations surrounding these common fantasy creatures. How do I inject wonder into these common themes without disrupting them so completely they become weird? Does the audience matter? How much do I add to the basic framework of goblins and kobolds for my new players? Am I merely creating uncommon expectations they will attach to familiar names only to have them disrupted by their next group? Is that even fair? It's probably not necessary to change things dramatically to get that burst of wonder. No matter how the world is set up the players will figure out its mysteries and make it "normal" for them.

I've also been running games for my kids and their friends with the Black Hack. They don't know the rules and have zero expectations. They are developing them as they interact with the world and explore. Wonder is easy as each new thing is amazing. I could leave everything bog standard D&D and they would eat it all up, but I've made changes. These things, like goblins hatching from a queen's eggs fully grown, they accept as part of D&D. No matter what they read in rulebooks later, goblins will have queens and their nests will be an HR Geiger nightmare with a bloated queen and egg pods everywhere. Those changes are for me, not them.

For someone new to tabletop gaming the smallest brush against a fantasy trope can create wonder. I rolled an encounter for them at night and had a dragon fly over their camp. They didn't fight it. Their characters couldn't even see it. It was a silhouette revealed by the stars it blotted out above, but it blew their minds to be so close to a dragon! They talked about it for months as that time they saw the dragon with the wonder written all over their faces!

For adults, wonder seems easier for something like science fiction. Planetary romance or space opera can move from planet to planet. Each new planetfall brings a fresh world with its own set of rules and consistencies that need not relate to any other the characters have visited before. Even hybrids like Vance's Dying Earth where the long past of the Earth lays shadows on the world so that any location could be out of sync with the campaign would the characters already know. I think that is the draw of games like Traveller or even the Planescape and Spelljammer settings of D&D. The perpetual need to explore, to figure out the rules of the current locale and the wonder they present.

Many of the small press fantasy creators focussed on the disruptive and weird in the past few years, but it's the stuff that captures a sense of wonder as well that seems to gain the most traction and be talked about in the most glowing terms. I think when people use words like "original" and "different," they are really talking about the sense of wonder they found reading or playing it.

The little products that snag ENnies and get talked about with such passion online are the ones that present worlds with new rules that create a whole new set of expectations through play. A few examples that spring to mind are A Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon Suin, and Veins of the Earth. All three of these present new worlds. The two LotFP releases straddle the weird by having entrances to the real/normal campaign world with a R&PL on the other side of the looking glass and Veins laying deep below the surface, beyond the deepest dungeon or mine. Yoon Suin is a place that can be entered by ship like the original T├ękumel where your players need to figure out how things work and find a place in it. All three have their own systems for just about everything and incredible visuals that can deliver the wonder missing from the muddy roads linking the pseudo-european fantasy settings that have all started to look like New Zealand since 2001.

Maybe the audience doesn't matter. Maybe the need for wonder is my own no matter if I'm playing or running. I think for my next campaign setting I need draw inspiration from the crazy fantasy illustrations and paintings that have no limits like the work of someone like Moebius. Start with visuals full of wonder and build a fantasy world that makes sense with that.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Party Up Like It's 1976!

I played the original version of D&D, the one published in the little brown booklets back in the 1970s, for the first time last night. Even though I've played clones like White Box Swords & Wizardry the old game presents a unique experience.

We were using the reissue PDFs Wizards of the Coast released a few years ago. Those versions were cleaned up with a better typeface but they still use the same layout and art that the original booklets had. I thought we were going to stick to the first three books with the core classes of the cleric, fighter and magic user. One player wanted to play a thief, another wanted to play a druid and I don't see the point of standing in the way of a player's fun while DMing so we added the class info from books 4, 5 and 6. For quicker reference I was using one of the fan made single volume versions with a better layout and art. It included some rules from Strategic Review like grappling to fill in the odd blanks as well.

We needed to dip into Greyhawk for the thief class and the rules for the druid class is spread out across Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardy!

Character generation went well. Everyone rolled a good spread of abilities with some 15s and 16s balancing out the odd 4 and 7. When it came time to roll hit points everyone rolled a 1. All of them! The fighter starts with +1 to their hit die, so she ended up with 2 and the druid had a 15 Constitution so he also added +1 for a total of 2. The thief was out of luck with only one and refused to name his character until second level. When asked he called himself Thief. This led to some odd roleplaying, but he insisted that he was named that way because everyone from his culture was named after a calamity of some kind to keep them safe from it.

In play the old rules held up. As well as the rules work in play though, the organization is a total mess. It was clearly a "make it up as we go along" project over the two years the books were published. I'll be adding tabs to the pages I need the most before the next game!

Combat was easy to run, and with everyone doing 1D6 damage it made for some creative maneuvers rather than strategic weapon choices. One of my favourite moments came when our the player with the fighter said: "Damage is always 1d6 right? So it doesn't matter if I hit the goblin with my sword or smash him into the tree with my shield?" New DMs, the answer to 'can I smash the goblin into the tree with my shield' should always be yes!

Strategy featured high as the players used hit and run tactics to keep the advantage over their foes. Surprise is a great advantage and easy to achieve if you plan for it. Without the hit points to take a hit and keep fighting they planned for it!

For all their clever tactics, the group didn't manage to do much in the way of adventuring. Being afraid to take anything on in a straight up fight left them unable to commit to entering the only dungeon they found.

Most of the first session was spent getting the lay of the land and roleplaying in the town serving as the centre of the campaign. They started by entering the frontier town called Swan's Landing by river barge. They spent some time gathering and verifying the rumours they dug up and made a quick foray into the woods on the eastern shore of the large lake called the Deepwater to raid the goblins they heard were there. After surviving that they felt they needed to find some magic. That led them to track another adventuring party across the Serpent River to the west that disappeared about a week ago. Player skill made the difference here as they asked around and found someone who saw where the other party entered the woods so they could pick up the trail easily. Their other option was to accept a Geas from the local wizard and they weren't too keen on that.

The setting itself is a small sandbox with a few secrets of its own. Everything should shake out over time. We have plenty of things for them to mess with and otherwise destroy to get us well into the New Year. I'm looking forward to seeing how things change when we add the people who were missing and get into the wilderness adventuring the party is headed for now.

So much better than the original cover!

As a system I liked it. I have pretty much everything I need to run in those first three books and the rest I can easily make up or borrow from somewhere else. It's a bit quirky, with the miniature wargaming roots really showing, but it's not like that gets in the way. There's so little there, it's not like we'll break it by ignoring a rule or two.

The single best thing in the old rules is the 2D6 based table for initial reactions and the hiring. It made for some interesting role playing moments and gave Charisma a relevance it rarely receives in later editions. People say that system doesn't matter but the existence of that table caused one player to say: "Hey, in this edition we can talk to anyone and anything and it might work out, right? I think we need to do that all the time!"

The other thing I enjoyed was the titles of the supplements. Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry all evoke a feeling of the fantastic in a way that something newer, such as The Black Hack or Dungeon World, does not.

This foundation RPG project is going well so far. Everyone enjoyed it and delving into the OD&D game should give our whole group a new perspective. If you are interested in how one of my players found it, you can check out their post here.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

And Now for Something Completely Different, but First, More of the Same Black Friday Commercialism

A few years back my group decided to give the Fate and Fudge systems a go for a couple of campaigns. I'm not going to review these games (unless someone asks me to do so) but I did have quite the adventure looking for the funny dice that you need to play those games.

Fate and its predecessor, Fudge, both use six sided dice with two plus signs, two minus signs and two blank faces. With the popularity of the Fate system I thought getting a set would be easy. I was wrong.

Sadly, good art costs money. I'll add that to the list!

I live outside of a city of 160 thousand people. There is one comic shop and two gaming stores that all sell table top RPGs and the dice you need to play them. No one at any of them even knew what Fate or Fudge was. At one store when I asked for Fudge dice they handed me loaded dice!

I know what you are thinking, "The internet will provide," right?

I thought the same, but I was wrong again. I live in Canada. Up north and far from the border so I can't keep a US Post Office Box to beat the crazy shipping costs. As much as the internet had reasonably priced Fate Dice, getting a set for less than $30 was impossible after shipping was added.

For most of the games I used a set of wooden cubes with plusses and minuses drawn on with a marker. I eventually purchased a set at the Complete Strategist while on a family vacation. Thankfully it was only a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building and my family was willing to indulge me.

The idea that I had to go to New York City to buy a set of dice for ten dollars is completely insane! Thinking about it reminded me how hard it was to get different RPGs up here back in the day. So many games only existed in the pages of Dragon Magazine. There was no Traveller, only Star Frontiers. No Talislanta, only AD&D. We had access to only the most mass produced and widely distributed games.

Now, getting the actual games in PDF is easy no matter where a gamer is. In many ways this might be the best time ever for RPGs. The problem of getting dice is still a real one for many gaming groups. The more remote you are, the less access you have to other media, the more attractive an RPG can be as form of entertainment, but the harder it is to get the dice!

And the dice are important. A die rolling app on a computer or phone is not the same. There is a greater feeling of tension built by the time it takes to roll the dice and for them to stop! There is satisfaction in the physical act of rolling! It's fun!

Besides, funny dice are awesome!

For all these reasons I decided to create an online store to sell dice this fall. I spent a great deal of time finding manufacturers and distributors that could ship to just about anywhere at a price that would make dice accessible to anyone.

And that is how the Save or Die store was born!

I created Save or Die so anyone could get the polyhedral dice they need to enjoy gaming. I set it up so shipping is always free. The price shown is the price people pay. Depending on where people live they may have to wait a little longer to get their dice, anywhere from three to eight weeks, but they won't get boned on shipping.

It's Black Friday/Cyber Monday this weekend so I'm opening the store early. There is still plenty of work to do. The promo isn't done. The product line will continue to expand, especially with the other things people need for gaming like graph paper notebooks (something else that is hard to get around here). I haven't completed all the SEO. There's no Facebook page. I haven't set up PayPal yet. The list goes on. But the dice are available!

So head over to Save-or-Die.com and take a look around. If you have any questions shoot me an email.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Rules for Pets in the Black Hack

The longer I run David Black's stripped down old/new school D&Dish retro clone called The Black Hack, the more I find myself writing rules to suit the situations my players create and modify the game to our taste. The more I add and change the more I find myself with what looks like the beginnings of a great RPG that straddles the old school and new school well enough to function as a great little introductory fantasy RPG. That might fuel some posts for later, but for now here are the rules I created for running pets and animal companions in the Black Hack.

My players for my Keep on the Borderlands campaign went into the woods to see if they could find the dragon they heard about and only found the crazy hermit and his lion. They killed the hermit and then they tracked down the lion so they could use a Charm Monster potion on it. The warrior character treated it well and fed it more than the hermit did while they had it under control. I gave the player in control of the warrior a Charisma roll when the potion expired to befriend the lion. I figured with a 6 Charisma I was safe and the lion would just run away.

That's when they rolled a critical and the lion became their pet. Now I have rules for pets work in the Black Hack. These are the expanded and polished version of what I sketched out during that session so they could use their lion right away. They've worked well so far. If your players force you to make up rules for pets you can use these ones!

There is a Moebius image for every blogpost!

Creature companions/pets have three attributes besides their regular DMG, HD and HP: Action, Sense and Loyalty. The ACT and SEN attributes are based on the creature’s HD. ACT is 10 + HD  to a maximum of 16 and SEN is 10 + HD + (roll 2d6 and choose the lowest one) to a maximum of 18. LOY is a usage die and depends on how well trained and well treated the pet is before bad things start happening. A faithful dog that has been with the character for a few years will have LOY of d8 or even d10. A pack animal that was recently purchased will have a LOY of d4.

ACT is used for physical tests like dodging falling rocks or combat. SEN is used to notice something, track or any test that depends on the animal’s senses. LOY is tested any time something bad happens, such as the beast is wounded, mistreated or neglected when hungry. If the LOY result is a 1 or 2 on a d4 the animal will attempt to run away.

Pets and creature companions can play different roles during combat. One option is to attack independently using their ACT attribute. If used this way they risk damage from opponents if ACT rolls are failed. Another option is for them to fight with the character that owns them and add a +1 to their effective HD for the purposes of fighting powerful or multiple opponents. Pets could also harass and distract a single opponent to create an opening and allow the character that owns the pet to get Advantage on an attack. It depends on circumstances, but creativity should be rewarded.

Pets get one action or attack, the same as the characters. Their damage based on HD already reflects the results of using all their natural weapons.

Here’s an example notation of a lion that was charmed using potions and then became a pet:
ACT 15 SEN 15 LOY d8

DMG 1d10 HD 4+1 HP 18

This way all the rolls stay player facing while they roll against the stats their pets have when they take some kind of action. The loyalty die allows whoever is running the game to keep things from getting too out of hand. If the pet is being overused they can call for more loyalty rolls.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Especially if your try them out too! 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Eleven

The "dead" RPG I would like to see reborn is the old Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP system from TSR in the 1980s. It can't be declared truly dead since so many people are still playing it and all of the PDFs from its original run are free online. But it is out of print and no one is taking advantage of all the game design improvements of the last 30 years to tighten up the game and improve the play experience.

That's not a criticism of the game. It was both ahead of its time and a product of it. The resolution chart for success, in particular, was en vogue in game design for a while in the early 1980s but disappeared quickly. Still, much of what makes the game work well found its way into modern games like FATE. I wrote a post about that along time ago. The wonky experience system that is burned for luck is a feature I find in more games lately as well. The experience rewards themselves are a brilliant way to encourage play that gets the kind of situations that happen in Marvel comics all the time.

The infamous chart. I remember we had a cardboard wheel that worked the same as the chart for a while too.

The biggest barrier to a renewed Marvel Super Heroes game is licensing. Back in the 80s Marvel likely saw an RPG as a way to expand their market on the rising tide of D&D's insane success. Their properties also weren't worth what they are today, thanks to some outlandishly successful movies and small screen offerings. The recent Marvel Heroic RPG collapsed under the weight of the licensing agreement Margret Weiss Productions made to get it. Their game existed for a year before that dream died. There were other problems with the game, notably a lack of original character generation, but any other publisher is going to have to deal with a similar financial imbalance. RPGs have shrunk as a market and Marvel as an IP has gained a whole new level of success. The viral success necessary to afford to keep the license is difficult to manufacture.

That said, this is about what I want, rather than what I think can happen. I'd like to see the FASERIP rules streamlined and cleaned up a bit. It could be brought into the 21st century with a few tweaks. Maybe that chart could be replaced with a target number system? Maybe the percentile dice could be dumped for something more simple, like a D20? The details are less important than the core game moving forward and evolving.

You won't see one of these in the new game! :P

There are plenty of old adventures available from Classic Marvel Forever, but I'd like to see some new ones. How about a Marvel Cinematic Universe Sourcebook? That's a way to make a grab for new fans.

The Marvel Universe has grown and changed a lot since the game went out of print. It would be amazing to see what could be done with it all now.

Note: If you are reading along, you might notice that I'm skipping days here and there. Part of it comes from my schedule, which is quite busy in the summer, and part of it comes from me finding some of the topics uninspiring. I know I called this process microblogging and a big part of it for me is to rebuild my blogging habit, but I'm not going to pull something out of my ass or write a single paragraph for the sake of checking off a day.

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Nine

A good RPG for about 10 sessions is the Black Hack by David Black. It's a 20 page fantasy RPG with streamlined rules and a surprisingly robust system. I reviewed it in detail way back when, but here I'm going to focus on why it's good for 10 sessions.

While the system can handle any situation with a quick judgement the rules as written appear to break down in long term play. This isn't hard to change, and the Black Hack begs to bent to the whim of the table, but I figure for this question I should stick to the rules as written.

Part of the reason it's so good for a short campaign is character generation. Characters can easily be created in five to fifteen minutes so there is no reason you can't get right into the action in the first session. With time limited in the campaign you don't want to waste too much rolling characters.

Another point in its favour is the speed of the system. At 20 pages it's about as rules-light as you can go with D20 game. There is no time lost looking up rules, and there are no fiddly bits to slow down the players. They declare and action and test against a stat for success. That's it. This allows the group to cover a lot of ground in whatever adventure they are playing.

The advancement system is loose and can be as fast as one level per session. That means the characters end the campaign at level 10, the old name level from the original fantasy RPG. This means in only 10 sessions the PCs can develop all the way from zero to hero. That short development is something you aren't going to get with another traditional RPG rules as written.

The system is adaptable. You can use it with the list of monsters in the back to put together your own adventure or adapt on the fly anything made for the D&D family of systems. What it comes down to is the Black Hack is an easy choice for a short campaign, whatever your goal.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 - Day Eight

What is a good RPG for a two hour session? There's plenty of micro games and pocket mods that could fill a short session with some crazy fun, but I think one of the best games for a complete game in two hours is Classic Traveller.

I know I said Classic Traveller is game I wish I was playing in the Day One Post, but that's not why I think it's perfect for two hour session. I've played quite a few two-hour sessions and with Classic Traveller using the 76 Patrons adventure book.

76 Patrons is basically 76 adventure hooks with important features randomized on a D6. It could be a twist, a betrayal, a change to the maguffin. It doesn't matter, it means there are 76 times 6 (456) potential scenarios in that little black booklet. Each page has enough information laid out to improvise a good adventure scenario. They can be completed by a motivated group in less than two hours unless the GM pads them out with extra detail or complications.

Traveller itself allows for pretty much any kind of play. The galaxy is consists of endless isolated planets full of mystery and opportunities. The party can encounter any level of tech imaginable so there is no itch that can't be scratched in a short game.

Making characters in Classic Traveller can take a few minutes and be recorded on an index card. Despite this speed and brevity, the characters are amazingly fleshed out with a storied past and plenty of experience (or skills) to bring to bear on any situation. The six stats run from raw talent to education and social standing. This and a smattering of skills give the players everything they need to figure out how their characters fit into a pulp adventure, a careful exploration, a political intrigue, etc.

If you want a quick game, the core books from Classic Traveller along with the 76 Patrons supplement will get you a short evening of fun and adventure!

Friday, 4 August 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Four

Today's microblog topic, courtesy of #RPGaDAY2017, is the RPG I've played most since August 2016. I've easily played more 5e D&D than any other game in the past year.

I've played in a steady Sunday night game for a a couple of years or more. It's been pretty amazing. I managed to get my Warlock up to 16th level, the highest I've ever managed in 35 years of D&D. The system has adapted well to our dirty tricks under one of the best DMs I've played with. I've played a total of three characters in the campaign, but my Warlock is definitely my favourite. Had I know it would last so long, I might have chosen my class more carefully, but I have no regrets.

I ran 5e D&D campaigns for a couple of new groups of players. Both groups wanted me to specifically run "the new D&D" for them. Mostly because they had bought the books but didn't really understand how to use them. Partially because they wanted to play the new shiny D&D.

Philippe Caza
Outside of that, I've played all kinds of other games, from Marvel FASERIP to the Cypher System. Never as consistently or as long as D&D though.

The latest D&D is a pretty good game. I like the addition of backgrounds. The different types of each class that are chosen between 2nd and 3rd level remind me of the kits from 2nd edition. The feats are no longer overwhelming and merely add some colour to a character. There are enough player facing choices that t's easy for two characters of the same class to be completely different in play. All in all, it's pretty good.

I do find it fiddly at times. I don't like how much I need to consult the books during play, but it's not too bad. It's far more streamlined than the 3rd and 3.X editions. Left to my own devices I would play something more old school, but the best edition of D&D is the edition someone else is willing to run for you.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Three

How do I find out about new RPGs?

How does anyone find out? There are few things gamers like to talk about more than games. There are a myriad of online spaces full of gamers talking about all things RPG. There are blogs, podcasts, forums, and plenty of pages and communities on social media.

Google Plus is still the best place to find out about new RPGs for me. Without fail someone will post a link to a review of a new RPG, a creator's game development blog, or a play report. I do it myself. There's so much information about new games I don't even follow all the links.

News travels fast on the internet. It's easy to find if you want to, and so many of us do. We all love to grab a new game, read it, see if there's something there that will give us an experience we want or haven't had in play before. Hoping to see if someone came up with anything new or good we can adapt to what we are already playing at our own table.

There are few things as gratifying as being surprised by a new game innovation. It's why we can't help ourselves. I have a library full of PDFs of RPGs, old and new. I have so many I had to pay for extra space in my Google Drive.

Following the line of thought from my last post, I still wonder how to get the news out to new players. Is it the online community for board gamers? Is it book stores? Are libraries the key?

That's a more interesting question to me. How do we get the word out past the confines of the RPG community? We're great at telling each other what's happening, but how do we find the people that don't know what they are missing?

I wish I knew.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

RPG a Day 2017: Day Two

The topic for day two of #RPGaDAY is what RPG I would like to see published. Since the ease of self-publishing and open licenses on so many RPG systems has led to a surge in the variety of RPGs available it feels like there is a game for almost every taste out there. When I run them, I find I still need to tweak things. Sometimes I massage a game's rules so much it's not really the game I started with but my tastes run toward pulp action with an element of danger in casting magic.

That doesn't mean I want a new pulp action fantasy game. It certainly couldn't hurt. I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes the kind of game I like, but that's not what I'd like to see published right now. I'd like to see a game published that is designed for and marketed to new players. The only game out at the moment that seems to even consider new players in its design is Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Every other game is aimed at people who are already players. That means the entire hobby rises and sinks on the success of D&D. The latest edition is pretty good, but it has some fiddly bits and 50 years of expectations as baggage. All of that might form a barrier to new players. Besides, I don't trust a bunch of corporate stooges with my hobby.

What I would like to see is a new game that doesn't have the baggage of 5e D&D that is designed to be easy to pick up and play for new people. I'd like to see a game that delivers all the wonder and excitement that can be packed into a fantasy RPG, with intuitive guidelines that allow for flexibility and don't have players consulting the book during play unless they are looking for something awesome.

I've been thinking about this since I started running the Black Hack for a new group of players. They love it and might try playing on their own if I could give them a rule book that they could run a game with. But the Black Hack is 20 streamlined pages designed for an experienced GM. The player facing parts are exceptional but there is nothing in there for the new GM.

We have all the talent in the DIY RPG/OSR/Indy RPG publishing scene to make a game that is a tool for play, an instruction book for learning how and an inspiration for years of fun. What we have less of is people with the will and money to market such a thing outside the RPG scene.

As long as your game has some good layout and art (or at least doesn't have bad art) you can count on making enough sales to recover whatever you put into it. If the game is good, you get lucky, or you get the word out to the RPG scene you could make a tidy profit from it. That means there is no incentive for a small publisher to spend the effort or money necessary to push outside the existing market. One of the results of that is we have all kinds of games. Some of these games come from amazing risks that make great RPGs that push game design forward. Others are pretty terrible. Most are somewhere in the middle, but suit a niche and make a group of players happy by catering to their particular tastes. Another result is we creators stay inside the bubble and new players looking for way into the hobby that isn't D&D don't have the options that were available in the 1980s.

I guess that means I'd like to see a whole bunch of games published. Games aimed at new players and different genres. Games made by gamers for new gamers they don't know.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

RPG a Day 2017: Day One

It's #RPGaDAY time again. I participated once before by covering all the topics in one giant omni-post. This time I'm going to try to do the challenge as written. One RPG topic a day, every day, for all of August.

Day One is the question: "What Published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?"


At the moment my gaming life is pretty rich. I play in a regular 5e D&D game. I'm playing good old Marvel FASERIP with my longtime group. I'm also running a streamlined version of the Black Hack for my kids and some of their friends. There's not much missing, but I do have a game I'd love to be playing right now: Classic Traveller.

I blogged about Classic Traveller once before. Since then the game has grown on me. It is a brilliant bit of design! It's a simple, skills-based system that makes science fiction adventure easy to do.

I like the way the loose, implied setting can be adapted to any idea the group has for the kind of game they want. It's easy to take inspiration from so much of the genre to build your setting or add detail to the implied setting until it feels right. That's why I love the original three little black books. In them, the galaxy represents infinite possibility. Anything can happen out in the vastness of space! There are dangers, opportunities and adventure out there with no reason to ever stop.

Traveller characters are experienced adventurers with the right stuff. That means the Traveller character generation is a process of creating a past for each character. This approach is brilliant for science fiction where character knowledge and experience are the tools used to overcome obstacles.

A lot of chaff is thrown at the possibility of Traveller characters dying during character generation, but it turns the process into a game in itself. A gamble with the highest of stakes! Push things too far, and that character that you are starting to like might wind up dead! Don't go far enough and you won't have the skills you need to survive in play! It's also fast enough that starting over is no huge burden. There are even some great online random character generators out there that allow you to make a character (sometimes even a dead one) in seconds.

There are piles of classic books available, but the game I want to play is in the 3 LBBs, Charts and Tables, Citizens of the Imperium and 76 Patrons. That's my dream set for the long Traveller campaign I haven't played yet.

That is why I want to play it so bad! I found Traveller only a few years ago, when I bought the charity bundle. So far I've only had short runs and one-shots with the game. Just enough to let me know how much I like it and what I want to do with it. I know I want a crumbling galactic empire, like in the Foundation Series, mixed with the oppressive regime desperately clinging to the remains of power like Blake's 7, mixed with the wild sci-fi adventure tourism of Doctor Who, all held together with the cynical opportunism of FireFly. The Traveller umbrella can cover it all and more!