Monday, 31 August 2015

Just like the cool kids: the other 14 questions for #RPGaDay!

In my last post I slammed all 31 days worth of topics down in one go. Now that I'm done I regret it a little since quite a few of the topics deserved their own space and might have generated some discussion. As it is, no one is going to comment on the omnibus post because they'll forget the thing they care about by the time they finish.

The cool kids have an extra 14 topics that I just couldn't get to the other night. I didn't realise how negative most of the questions are. This will be a bit of a departure from the typical, positive stance I take on things. Strap in...

32. Worst game you ever played?

Most games have something salvageable about them. Some thing in it works for me or it will do what it says on the tin so even if it turns out to not be my thing I can at least respect it for being a success.

Not so with Savage Worlds. My worst game experience came when playing a new savage worlds setting. I liked the setting and was excited to finally play "fast, furious and fun" savage worlds! The setting was pretty good but savage worlds was neither fast, nor furious, nor fun. 

I had read savage worlds but never really got a feel for how the damage worked so I thought a run through with someone experienced with the system would make it all fall into place. After four hours of play and a few long, painful and boring combats I'm no more certain of the rules than before. I think we broadcast that game but I'm not going to link to it because I don't want to even look at it again.

Savage Worlds is fiddly. There are a bunch of fiddly rolls to make that lead to more fiddly rolls that end with something happening sometime later. I suppose next to something like Pathfinder it might seem like a fast system, but compared to the actual rules-light systems I'm used to savage world crawls. I love pulp-fiction action. I did not find it here. Which is sad because Savage Worlds has some of the best setting books in the industry. Necessary Evil is a game with a great premise and a solid set of adventures. Sundered Skies is an innovative fantasy world that could have gone a bit farther and dumped the dwarves and elves but at least does a good job shaking up the common fantasy assumptions. The set of adventures again, are good and the origin story for the setting is fantastic! With all the great material, it's too bad the system just doesn't measure up to the promise of: "fast, furious and fun."

33. Interesting rule embedded in an otherwise baleful game?

Machinations of the Space Princess is a game from postmortum studios in desperate need of more playtesting and another edit. It was kickstarted so the art is top-notch but the game itself feels clunky and unwieldy. That said, the character generation includes a method for creating a wide variety of alien races. A player can just mix and match different alien features to create nearly any character. From floating gas bags to a dead guy, it's all on the table. I mention the ability to play a dead PC because it is the first time I've seen explicit rules allowing someone to make a character resembling the dead assassin from the sci-fi television program Lex.

You are supposed to stop at three features but can continue to take more. Taking more features pushes your character farther away from the human experience and makes relating to other characters difficult so the PC with more than three alien features takes a penalty on charisma. This penalty is a good way to open up the crazy with a reasonable consequence. 

This set-up for generating aliens almost redeems the game. Fortunately it's under the Open Gaming License to we may see a streamlined and better explained version of this innovative rule in a new sci-fi OSR game sometime soon.

34. Game you never played but knew it sucked just looking at it?

I can't think of a single example of a game I knew sucked just by looking at it. I've been turned off by a game's art, but I didn't know it sucked. The bad art stopped me from caring enough to find out if it sucked or not.

35. Game you most wish didn't suck?

I wish Machinations of the Flame Princess didn't suck. Besides the unique alien character generation I mentioned above there's a lot this game has to offer. There's simply too much in it to fix, it's easier to bolt the good bits into another system.

Reading through it and playing I always get the feeling that it wasn't quite finished. That and the author didn't understand some of the abstractions used in the mechanics of old school games. The best example is how he doesn't understand Armour Class so he "fixed" it with extra, fiddly mechanics that included rolling more dice in every round of combat and it dragged on! The saving throw system was also a terrible mess.

The main reason I wish this game didn't suck is the art. Satine Phoenix did an amazing job capturing the sexy, sleezy sci-fi vibe of the source material. Her work also does a lot to reinforce the implied setting. That's a good thing because the implied setting is another reason I like this game and wish it was good. It's a shame the game doesn't deliver on the promise made by the art. It would have been amazing!

I'd like to see more of Satine's work in RPGs.

36. Game about which you have the most mixed feelings?

I suppose, MotSP above fits the bill for that one too. As bad as the game is we had a tonne of fun playing. Our GM Chris had this serious, dark setting planned for us but made the mistake of mentioning the possibility of us playing centaurs. It was easy to make centaurs under the MotSP rules.

Centaurs in space turned into My Little Pony in space and our campaign became Friendship is Blasters as we gleefully named our characters things like Rainbow Smash and Pinky Die.

So we fixed the terrible rules and had fun with the idea of the game rather than the game as written. I guess that's the source of my frustration. I contributed to this game as a kickstarter and did my best to spread the word about it because the idea of the game is great. The possibilities available in this style of sci-fi are great fun. The execution of the final product failed to express that idea and there is so much work involved in bringing it up to where it should be to begin with. This game is only fun if I hack it and there is so much that needs to be hacked!

I don't know if it's better to get some vellum and paste in my own text around the great art or just leave it on the shelf. Maybe I resent the need.

37. Old game most in need of an upgrade?

Rifts needs to be brought into the 21st century. It is fun and charming in its own way but games have improved a great deal since Rifts rolled off the presses in 1990. The subtext of power and ignorance is even more relevant now than it was back then. The story behind the setting works but the mechanics could do with some smoothing out. The rules could support the different kinds of play offered by the setting, but don't.

I know there is a Savage Worlds version of Rifts in the works. Savage Worlds would not be an improvement. I'd rather play the old rules. I can say this without a doubt because my group played a short Rifts campaign about a year-and-a-half ago. A new, scratch-built system that is designed for the completely unbalanced nature of Rifts so the Rogue Scholar PC can play in the same party as the Dragon PC and everyone has a good time is what this game needs.

If not Rifts, then Toon. Toon would be great as a Fate Accelerated game.

38. Game you can run with the least prep?

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my go to game for a lot of reasons. In this case, character generation can be done in minutes and I have a stack of adventures on my shelf I can use at a moment's notice. If I want to freestyle a session I know the system is not going to get in my way by tripping me up.

39. Game with awful art and who you wish you could hire to fix that?

The art for FATE Core is boring. The majority of it features people standing around, doing nothing. Even the cover is boring, with three figures waiting for something interesting to happen. The execution of the magical cop figure is boring and terrible. His face and leading arm are at an awkward angle and appear to be the wrong size for the rest of him. What an awful distraction for a cover.

I would hire Jez Gordon to defibrillate the visual presentation of this game. He can draw dynamic figures in all genres and can give a character in a static pose a sense of menace and danger.

Seriously, hire Jez Gordon to bring your games to life. He is awesome!

40. Best houserule you've seen in action and now you use in your own games?

I suppose my favourite thing is using a random table for searching a body. I think it was on Zak's blog before he put it into his LotFP city supplement, Vornheim. That's my favourite because it can turn a random encounter into an adventure hook. My next campaign I plan on making up a series of "search the body" type tables to keep things interesting.

41. Game you've most changed your thoughts/feelings about?

I was excited about Fate Core when it came out. It seemed like a great toolkit for playing in different intellectual properties on the fly. It also felt like a game-building kit so you could sit down with a group and make up a game but keep everyone inside a basic framework. It looked like a great refinement of Fudge that would streamline the whole system into something fast and easy.

In practice it was a fiddly and awkward process. We played it for several sessions but only had one really good one. That one worked because a relationship between an NPC and a PC was exploited to move the plot forward. I think it can work well in a particular kind of game but is not the universal system it promised to be.

42. Game you'd use to run just about any setting if necessary?

I think I'd probably use Lamentations of the Flame Princess as my base game of choice if I had to stick with one. It's a rules-light system that adapts well to added rules. The skill system and Specialist class makes it adaptable to many genres.

The classes were modified for LotFP to give each mastery of its own domain while having the same ability in the overlapping areas. For instance, all characters can use any weapon and wear any armour. That makes it easy to adapt them to multiple genres without unbalancing them. A given class can be altered or removed as the setting demands and it all still works.

I might steal the healing rules from 5e D&D though. I like how 5e works with the abstraction of hit points better than LotFP.

43. Game that haunts you and you aren't certain why?

Old World of Darkness Storyteller system games. I found my set of books for it a few months back in a cupboard at my parents' house and I have no idea what to do with them now. They call to me, even though I have no desire to play them. I want to look at them. Read them. I don't know why. The 1990s were a strange time.

44. Game that would probably be the most fun to play a bee in?

Rifts! I could play an inter-dimensional Mega Damage bee! A true D-Bee! Or I could play a dragon that thinks it's a bee and stays polymorphed as such all the time. A fire-breathing honey bee with a Mega Damage sting! Yeah! RIFTS!

45. Best Star Wars Game?

I already talked about this one in the last post. WEG D6 Star Wars. I prefer the first edition but I would happily play the second edition too.

46. Game that's good in theory but your kind of on the fence about really?

The Strange by Monte Cook Games. It sounds amazing and original but once you are playing in it so much feels like it's been done before. I think Numenera gets much of its oomph from the setting. The Strange feels a mix of Amber Diceless and Mage the Ascension with Numenera-like mechanics. A lot of the terms from Numenera are needlessly renamed, which I found mildly annoying as well.

I enjoyed playing the Strange even though it was something of a let down. At this point I may have played so many games I've developed an RPG system cynicism. You should probably try it for yourself.

That is the whole shooting match of questions, just in time for the end of the month!

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