Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye, ICE; Hello New ICE!

Snagged this news announcement over RPG.net:
Aurigas Aldebaron LLC, owner of Iron Crown Enterprises and all its intellectual property, announces the appointment of Guild Companion Publications Limited, based in the United Kingdom, as the licensee for our High Action Role Playing (“HARP”), Rolemaster and Spacemaster game systems, which is in addition to the recently awarded license they hold for HARP Science Fiction system and the long-running Shadow World setting. 
Aurigas Aldebaron LLC is instituting its vision of “next generation game company management” by reducing the number of vertical layers in the industry which stand between game creators and the fans that play such games. It is seeking game developers to utilise its additional properties including Cyberspace and the pirates-based game Run out the Guns!, and possibly the Silent Death game system Combat Express license. Its new strategy also includes more involvement from a community support and marketing perspective, and it expects to have some more involvement with its properties than it has had in its past. To support these efforts, Aurigas Aldebaron LLC has recruited third parties and volunteers to manage its licensee properties, relationships, website, forums and marketing efforts.
About Aurigas Aldebaron LLC: In December of 2001, Iron Crown Enterprises (“ICE”) and all its intellectual property was purchased by Aurigas Aldebaron LLC, a Virginia-based company backed by several wealthy individuals. Aurigas immediately replaced the former ICE management with part of the management team from ICE which formed itself into a separate company to manage ICE under license. Aurigas Aldebaron LLC will continue to act in a capacity of an intellectual property owner licensing its properties to qualified game creators and developers. It will continue to seek properties to acquire and additional game creators and developers to work with. For more information, please visit www.ironcrown.com.
About Guild Companion Publications Limited: Guild Companion Publications Limited is the commercial arm of the Guild Companion magazine (www.guildcompanion.com). Previously it published Rolemaster, HARP and Spacemaster products under license from Mjolnir LLC, and already holds a direct license from Aurigas Aldebaron LLC to publish HARP SF and Shadow World products, and its Director (Nicholas HM Caldwell) is the author of Rolemaster’s Mentalism Companion and Construct Companion, HARP’s College of Magics, and of the upcoming HARP SF and HARP SF Xtreme products. The new license arrangement with Aurigas Aldebaron LLC provides GCP Ltd a complete offering in fantasy and science-fiction gaming. GCP Ltd’s commercial products are available exclusively via the OneBookShelf network of ecommerce outlets (see http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=461).
Guild Companion Publications Limited is a private limited company registered in England and Wales under No 7094505. Registered office: 77 Speedwell Close, Cambridge, CB1 9YS.

So, while there's a loss of the current holder of ICE intellectual properties, apparently a new group will be taking over the reins. And I've grabbed some stuff from Guild Companion for HARP (primarily to look at the system) and HARN (to look at the setting), so I'm hopeful.

My big interests here are more HARP and HARN and Shadow World, as I'm not a big fan of Rolemaster.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

State of the Mongoose: Point of Interest 1 -- Noble Armada

I read up on the State of the Mongoose today and found out this little item (which I'd read about in passing on RPG.net in one of the threads) was confirmed:

A Call to Arms: Noble Armada 
This came about because of a fortuitous meeting with Chris Wiese of Holistic Design at Gen Con this year. In a nutshell, Chris was looking for a new vehicle for Noble Armada (especially as the 3rd edition of Fading Suns is due for release in 2011 – more on that a little later), while we were looking for a new setting for A Call to Arms. 
We had looked at Star Trek, and even developed a working conversion of the rules, but during the licence negotiations we found we were going head to head with Wizkids. And that was never going to go well! 
When Noble Armada was suggested to us, however, it just seemed like a perfect fit. Multiple fleets with room to add more, a developed universe to draw upon, and a very different style of ship combat for us to play with. No downsides! 
Signs & Portents [#87 for those of you interested in looking for it] is currently previewing CTA: Noble Armada, and we would direct you to look at the current issues for more details of this game – it is going to be a good ‘un, so if space fleet combat is your thing, take a peek.
CTA + NA =?
This is good news, because I really wanted to try out a whole bunch of Babylon 5 stuff when Mongoose had the license, but unfortunately wasn't able to. Fortunately, A Call to Arms lives on with its unusually named maneuvers (which look fun to call out when you declare 'em) by transitioning into the Fading Suns universe!
Also, it will help answer some of the questions that I've always had about the ships and their role in the Known Worlds -- not the least of which is locking down what kind of differences there are in the various ships (Hawkwoods, Decados, Guild, al-Malik, etc.) so that you get that thrill you got in B5 -- where the tech and the ship design is so well-defined you can tell where a ship is from and what kind of technology it has built into it.

Also, it may be that the old ship lists of B5 may be usable still, and perform the role of ships to round out non-provided fleets -- the minor houses, the new ships of the Imperial fleet, mercenary fleets, alien ships, and perhaps ships from the Kurgan Caliphate and various Lost Worlds...

Here's hoping for rules on ship-building as well, just in case I'll need to tweak them existing ships for some pirate ships with extra surprises, and some 'ghost ships' that have survived long voyages through the blackness of space.

My ultimate meta-gaming layer for the Fading Suns universe would be somehow integrating Victory By Any Means (VBAM) into the macro level of the setting. Someday, perhaps.

Preparing for FS3 -- Kitchen Sink Musings

As I eagerly await the release of Fading Suns 3rd Edition, it's time to get my head together on all the stuff that can be done with this kitchen sink setting.

Now, a kitchen sink setting may be a derogatory term for some -- for me, it can be a godsend if it's done well. This is because it's a snap to raid other gaming source material and drop them into a campaign, given that the setting has enough hooks to hang them on without too much handwaving.

Fading Suns -- with its Hyperion meets Dune meets middle ages meets Gothic Fantasy feel -- has a lot going for it. For example:

  • dungeon crawl-ish campaign -- Guild-sponsored explorations of ruins on Lost Worlds;
  • Cthulhu-inspired investigations -- enough Antinomy and isolated locales to shake a stick at;
  • swashbuckling space opera -- should be a snap, and normally part of regular campaigns especially with the support of Mongoose's upcoming A Call to Arms: Noble Armada to help further define the ships;
  • politics and courtly intrigues -- there's plenty of noble houses, church factions, and guild agendas already there;
  • macguffin-based adventures -- 2nd Republic artifacts aplenty.
I'll post more concrete examples with actual gaming materials I plan on raiding in the future.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

How old is old school?

Well, it's a relative matter of course. Watching my 2+ year old son struggle with a TV that won't react the same way to his touch the way his mom's iPhone does drives home that point every day.

So what does that mean in terms of my sense of "old school"? It means it's relative -- my old school will be older than those who started gaming later than I did, and will be newer than those who started back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

What's my old school then?

Does the period when I wanted to game -- but couldn't because my grade school years were spent in the Philippines -- count? There were many reasons why (only saw a game run once, couldn't find all the books, 700 Club said it was evil, couldn't find enough players, etc.)

I only bought RPGs and had bad attempts at running these games back then. But I did pick up not only T1: The Village of Hommlet, but the AD&D rulebooks and the Basic & Expert Set and a variety of early modules and things like Geomorphs available in different places known to Philippine gamers for this rare hobby (National Bookstore, Lil's Hobbies, Squadron Shoppe, Nova Fontana).

I rolled up characters that I'd never play, and I randomly generated dungeons that no one would ever see. And because of the strength of the TSR brand, I picked up Top Secret (not S.I.) and Star Frontiers as well.

And picked up those damn minigames (which I actually played when I strongarmed some friends and relatives into trying them out)!


Or is my real old school my exposure to the U.S. gaming scene in high school? AD&D in Bill Homeyer's "World of the Wheel" campaign, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, and -- as a San Mateo gamer -- classics of the Hero System: Champions, Danger International, Justice Inc. and Robot Warriors?

What about Car Wars and Autoduel -- are they old school?

Does being able to put together the classic Champions stat block from memory give me old school cred, as much as knowing who Black Dougal and Morgan Ironwolf were?

Or am I considered a newer breed because I collected TSR's attempt at the "Choose Your Own Adventure" market -- the Endless Quest series of books? Is there an issue with filling in some idle gaming time with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and the Lone Wolf series of adventures?

And is there any value if I am considered old school?

My understanding of the use of the term Old School Revival / Revolution / Renaissance is that it is a reclaiming of a much maligned style of game design and gameplay. It is an assertion that there is value in these old games beyond mere nostalgia, that there is -- beneath the in-jokes and the deathtrap dungeons -- something of value that more modern games have lost or turned their backs on in search of newer horizons, subtler story techniques, and novel RPG goals.

But it need not be centered on the fantasy genre, though much of it was (and still is) dominated by it.

Is there something for old school superhero gamers? The popularity of games like BASH and G-Core suggest there is. Can new school power mechanics and old school superheroic flavor intermingle and create new offspring? ICONS seems to be something very much like it.

If so, can we expect similar developments in the horror genre? Or the science fiction genre? Or perhaps an explosion in the western and romance genres?

I hope so. And I hope it comes from someone like you -- because whatever future this hobby has rests in the minds and hard work of gamers trying to make something better for that next generation. Perhaps -- if my son feels so inclined -- he'll be part of that future generation.

We'll just have to see.

RPG History Links for December (partial)

Been trying to find more articles on RPG history, but only found this one so far. Good one though:

Experience in Generic Role-Playing Games

This give a good rundown on how experience in RPGs progressed (beyond the well-known D&D iterations of experience tables and classes).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A New Fading Suns Blog Post!

Not just this one, but the one on the official site!

The dream is not dead, is in fact alive and well and waiting to get published. Some intriguing snippets from the upcoming edition include:

The Hazat teeter on edge of bankruptcy from their war effort against the Caliphate (and the Emperor Wars), though temporarily buoyed up by the vassalage of their former lords, House Chauki, and the acquisition of the world of Iver. But neither the Emperor nor the Universal Church are being seen to offer support in their war against the heretic Kurgans.

It's nice to see the Chauki plotline still alive and kicking in the 3rd edition.

With the impending death of the Patriarch, the Universal Church has turned inwards with thoughts of succession. Candidates now jockey against rivals in a bid for esteem in the eyes of the College of Ethicals. Some seek noble patronage in their quest to rise to the pinnacle of Church hierarchy, while others court the esteem of their fellows (and, some say, darker paths).

A good effort to weaken the overwhelming power of the Universal Church (though not too much, hopefully, as they provided a nice twist to the Dune-ish feel of the setting).

The Merchant League continues to scheme quietly. The recent granting of a new interstellar patent brings a sixth guild to interstellar recognition, and some cry foul. New worlds have opened on the jumpweb, but many are savage and dangerous places that threaten the flow of interstellar commerce. The dream of a Third Republic remains just a dream for now.

Looks like the new patent will add interest to playing groups from the Merchant League, though I feel that there should be time spent explaining how the League's influence counterbalances the Noble Houses and the Church.

Being based in the Philippines, I once remarked to a friend how similar the Fading Suns universe power structure was to our country. The Nobles were akin to our own wealthy families -- some long-time juggernauts with holdings in various key industries, some withering on the vine, and some (buoyed by celebrity status and bolstered by solid business or political sense) establishing themselves as new players in the field. The Church covered not just the dominant Catholic church, but also the various denominations and religious organizations that have great influence on the populace. The League: lawyers, accountants, and other professions that make the machinery work...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Roleplaying in the Worlds of Star Trek -- Part II

In the first part of this article, I tackled finding and using some of the licensed Star Trek RPG games to get your fix of Star Trek gaming. But since those RPGs are currently difficult to find (especially here in the Philippines), what other alternatives is there?

Using a current RPG system -- one that you can get ahold of and are comfortable with -- and building everything  Star Trek-related with it!

There are two general approaches for this:
  • find a generic RPG system, get all the native source material for a Science Fiction game, and get started converting to Star Trek;
  • find a specific Science Fiction system, and tweak it into a Star Trek setting.
Let's tackle Generic RPG system solutions first!

Generic RPG Systems

Two of the go-to generic systems for traditional RPGs are the Hero System and GURPS. Each of them have a wealth of source material appropriate for a Science Fiction campaign and for a Star Trek campaign in particular.

Hero has a reputation for being a little more supporting of -- well -- heroic gaming, while GURPS has a reputation for being slightly more gritty and less forgiving with regard to superhuman abilities and recovering from damage.

The Hero System has a genre book titled Star Hero. It discusses the various Science Fiction genres, dissects how these genres and subgenres are applicable to games (as opposed to fiction), and lays out how to put together a Science Fiction campaign. It gives guidelines on solar system and planet creation, as well as rules for weapons, armor, technology, and starships.

Hero also has two other supplements available that are of special interest to Star Trek fans. These are the Terran Empire sourcebook (the primary Hero System Science Fiction setting) and the Star Trek sourcebooks (an unofficial sourcebook put together by fans). The former is available for purchase, while the latter must be found by searching online.

GURPS 4th Edition has a sourcebook titled GURPS Space, is a revised version of the 3rd Edition book, and is also chock full of source material on creating your own Science Fiction setting, the benefits and pitfalls of certain setting decisions regarding political structures, technology levels, etc. There are character professions appropriate for the various aspects of interplanetary and intergalactic empires (complete with recommended skillsets), and sections on weapons and spaceships.

Of course, GURPS has several other sourcebooks that may be of use to someone looking to build their own Star Trek-ish universe: GURPS Ultra-Tech and GURPS Spaceships come to mind.

By the way, both these systems use normal six-sided dice as opposed to the polyhedral dice collections favored by D20 systems, so this shouldn't be a hinderance to getting your game on.

Other generic systems you may wish to consider, with slightly different RPG philosophies are the D6 system and FATE -- and each have their own respective books that include both the ruleset and genre source material in a single tome.

D6 Space is the latest (free) incarnation of the D6 ruleset which is probably best known for the original Star Wars RPG ruleset. It also uses only 6-sided dice, and favors cinematic styles of role-play for all types of conflict. Space combat in particular is interesting due to options that allow a non-map based style of play that is fast and furious -- though this may be at odds with the traditional capital ship combat that is emblematic of the Star Trek series.

Another thing that is of note: D6 is known for really fast character creation. With pre-prepared profession / archetype templates, you can have your players finished with mechanical character creation within minutes.

Starblazer Adventures may not seem like a very generic name for a generic RPG, but it can be considered the Science Fiction sourcebook for the current FATE ruleset. Its name is drawn from a series of British pulp SF comic books, but due to the breadth of SF settings that these comic books tackled in their lifetime, the RPG talks at length about creating your own campaign setting.

FATE itself has a reputation for being more narrative in its approach to RPGs, and unless you've been playing a variety of RPGs for a while, that may not make a lot of sense. Suffice it to say that the mechanics focus less on attempting to model an internally consistent and plausible reality, and more on telling an internally consistent and satisfying story using game mechanics.

Interestingly, there's another FATE entry in the Science Fiction RPG arena -- one that attempts to describe a more Hard Science Fiction feel to a campaign. You may wish to pick this RPG (known as Diaspora) as well, and mine it for rules, guidelines, and source material that is also appropriate for the Star Trek settings.

continued in Part III

Monday, November 1, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Marc

GM Marc is one of the many GMs in A.E.G.I.S. who has constantly tried to promote the hobby by running games and providing venues for games. I remember him running games way back when organized open meets were being run in the Greenbelt foodcourt, but have rarely seen him since them.

He works for Level Up Games as a Transition Manager. He used to be a GM and worked with them to try to insert Roleplaying elements into MMORPGs. He currently GMs for a loose group of 20 or so friends that call ourselves “The Dice Project”. They hold RPG sessions and boardgame sessions with various GMs every weekend at varying venues.

What was the first RPG you remember playing?

Star Frontiers, Alpha Dawn, all the way in Grade 5 in 1988. All because I saw a bunch of 6th graders play Robotech, I was too shy to ask to join and I couldn’t find Robotech in Nova Fontana.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?

Power. I was the Referee / GM back then and being able to create my own worlds where the players were acting in it was endlessly fascinating. However nowadays I have a more altruistic motive for continuing. I love telling stories. And I like bringing the Awesome out in people. There’s a thrill when you see players roar in triumph as their character does something absolutely amazing.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?

Back then it was all about power and escapism. I was a pretty mean GM. I set scenes up according to a fixed script that I forced my players to run with, or else I’d tantrum. Hahaha. Over the years though, I’ve changed. My focus has shifted from indulging my own fantasies to working with the players to have the whole table entertained. Less Power, More Escapism for everyone!

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?

Two Sci-Fi novels and a Fantasy Novel

  • The Crisis of Empire series by David Drake gave me my first taste of military sci-fi, which shaped most of my games.
  • The dystopian epic Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove inspired me to run darker games, where power politics and attitudes towards technology shaped the world.
  • Recently, I’ve been reading The Wheel of Time in Audiobook format. (okay, so maybe it would be listening) and that has definitely influenced my games. (Especially how I’d copy the male reader’s inflections for both male and female characters)

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?

  • Robotech – Giant Robots and Military SF. It’s the genre I love and this show epitomizes it.
  • Another anime show: Gate Keepers, Its premise of superhero teen secret agents in the 60s was the inspiration for a long running campaign. (And still inspires an ongoing one!)
  • Third show… uh… no other shows really come to mind.

But mostly, my games have been inspired by video games:

  • The Wing Commander series pretty much defined my preferred style of combat and personal interaction. And of course it’s Military SF, my favourite genre.
  • Final Fantasy 7 and Xenogears have also inspired my storytelling style. Because of those games, I was inspired to use “cutscenes” in my sessions.

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?

Hrm. Movies. That’s a tough question since I rarely watch movies. I don’t think any three movies really inspired my gaming style. Though the Matrix trilogy comes pretty close. (Hey, those are three movies, right? XD)

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?

Well that would have to be White Wolf’s Exalted. Aside from the whole pseudo-anime theme and an incredibly detailed world that you are encouraged to destroy, warp or alter, Exalted is such a kitchen sink setting for almost anything you can put in fantasy… or even some elements of science fiction. .. now only if the system didn’t suck. It’s a book keeping nightmare. I remember playing a half-hour mass combat encounter… in EIGHT HOURS because of the clunky system. I love the setting but I hate the system.

In terms of system though, I would have to say the FATE system is my favourite system of all time. It’s robust enough to encompass any genre and can be customized to provide unique game experiences. Also it’s an “open source” system so anyone can publish work based on it. There are several implementations, with the popular ones being Spirit of the Century, Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures. My personal favourite implementation is, well, Legends of Anglerre…. But that’s partly because I had a hand in writing that particular implementation of FATE. But seriously, check it out, for me it has the right balance of fluff and crunch. And 80% less book keeping then Exalted’s Storyteller system!

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?

As a Military SF junkie, perhaps the supplement that has had the most impact on me is GURPS Space. I based all my high school and parts of my college games using information found in that supplement. It guides you to make decisions about the sci-fi world you’re building and discusses many alternatives. And it also inspired me to learn Calculus. (All throughout high school, I could never compute my own burn trajectory travel times… because you need calculus to do so!) Even when I moved to other systems I’d still use the information in that book. Though now since I’m a FATE junkie, I’d recommend it’s successor in FATE Starblazer Adventures now.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?

Bliss Stage – It’s an indie game that’s like Lord of the Flies combined with Neon Genesis Evangelion. The players are all teenagers in a post apocalyptic world that was invaded by aliens that kill adults in their dreams. The kids can fight the aliens in their dreams and when they do so, they use mecha like the Evangelions with weapons and armor made from the character’s relationships with friends and lovers. It’s really awesome stuff.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?

  • Tenra Bansho Zero – it’s a Japanese RPG translated into English. Only the second RPG to be done that way. (First is Maid RPG, which yeah, I have a copy of.)
  • Dresden Files RPG – It’s the ultimate FATE implementation for Modern Horror games. You can play pretty much all of the World of Darkness characters with the Dresden Files system. Plus it’s magic system is the best I have seen. Beats the pants off Mage: The Ascension.
  • Legends of Anglerre – The ultimate FATE implementation for Fantasy Games! It can handle anything from gritty to epic power scales and can handle personal and mass combat with very surprising mechanics. And I helped write it.

On the Radar: New Superhero RPGs

Well, we've all heard about the new DC Adventures RPG using what seems to be a Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition ruleset, haven't we? For those unfamiliar with M&M, it was one of the better rulesets that came from the D20 / OGL era that boasted a super-powers toolkit reminiscent of the HERO system, but with level-based mechanics that simplified certain areas of power level assessement, threat level limitations, and statblock presentation.

A quick perusal suggests that it has also tapped into two classic superhero rulesets: Marvel Super-heroes' FASERIP-based system, and DC Heroes' AP-based system.

There are two other superhero RPGs also out in the market these days that draw their inspiration from older systems -- TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes RPG in particular.

The first is Steve ("I Wrote Mutants & Masterminds") Kenson's ICONS. FATE-powered, but geared towards pick-up superhero adventuring, ICONS has random character generation tables, the 2d6 FATE resolution mechanic favored by Starblazer Adventures, and adjective-flavored stats in a very easy to grasp 1 to 10 range of abilities.

In an article on Adamant Entertainment's site, Steve mentions that the powers shy away from the toolkit system favored by HERO System and Mutants and Masterminds: "you get a power, it has a level, and you might have some options by way of its associated stunts or descriptions, but that’s pretty much it."

If you're looking for a quick pick up game reminiscent of the Silver Age comics, Superfriends cartoons, or the more modern Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League Adventures flavor -- look no further than Icons!

The second one is G-core, which prides itself on being a similarly structured but different take on the FASERIP game rules. It does away with the green/yellow/red FEAT resolution chart for a more simple yet genre-friendly 1d10 mechanic, uses the same stats with different names, and boasts that "We took a character from the old FASERIP game and changed it to G-Core in less than 20 seconds!"

This of course means that all the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG material out on the web -- maintained and updated by longtime fans -- is just ripe for the taking. There should be no shortage of super-heroes, super-villains, and adventures for this new super-hero RPG -- currently available from Dilly Green Bean Games in Watermarked PDF form for the low, low price of $2.50.

So if you're looking to snag some new players who are fans of the blockbuster series of Marvel movies or are die-hard super-hero geeks, look no further than these two games for your gaming fix!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Whatever Happened to Fading Suns 3E? (Updated)

Well, based on my understanding of the posts on one of the developer's blogs -- it's still being worked on!

The 1st post (dated 12 Aug 2009) tells us that the FS3 developer team is hard at work on FS3. There's a slight apology -- perhaps due to the perceived 'lateness' of a product that has never really had a hard release date -- in the form of a behind the scenes look at the development team: all rabid fans, none of whom were involved in the creation of the original game.

The 2nd post (dated 23 Aug 2009) tells us that
"FS3 will be an updated version of FS2, the rules building on what we are accustomed to, but with all the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and a fresh start on things. Our design goals are to make the rules faster, sleeker, more comprehensible and also more coherent. For instance, your actions in combat will be resolved with a single die roll, which should greatly speed things up."
Which is good news. Much of the post discusses whether or not there will be re-releases of the multitudes of source material for 1st and 2nd edition under 3rd edition. My understanding is that at the time of the post, the strategy is to have much of that old material (fluff-wise) still valid. FS3 will contain information on the Known Worlds as of 5010 -- advancing the timeline quite a bit -- AND have new rules and mechanics that will improve on the gameplay in the prior version.

The 3rd post (dated 24 Dec 2009) states that there was a push by the developers to finish the the game -- which is good! More details on the actual development work are here too. Of note are the hinted at expansions of the coverage on religion in the Universal Church:
"I wanted to give the Universal Church some worth beyond being a “wizard’s guild”, something I hope I have achieved by creating sacraments. I see that as what the Church is really about, and I have thereby downplaying the role (but not worth) of Theurgy in the Universal Faith. The primary function of the Church is to save souls through dispensing and performing sacraments, and I see Theurgy more as a special kind of tool at the Church’s disposal."
This gives me hope, because I was always a bit at a loss as to what kind of spin to put on the Universal Church when roleplaying priests. I always wondered what people thought of the regular priests -- the ones who didn't spend points on theurgy -- when they bless people, what are they doing? Just pretending? And wouldn't the priests who did have theurgical abilities take issue with these fakers?

The next post (January 8, 2010) mentions that the Psi chapter is being worked on, as is the starship chapter, and that there are interesting things like Theurgical Operations are mentioned.

The next post (Feb 15, 2010) talks about a major milestone: the 1st draft of Fading Suns 3rd edition has been completed. They also summarize the basic approaches to Fading Suns 3rd edition: the upgraded rules from prior editions, the additional rules from various supplements, the updated timeline including the gap of the years since last edition, and so on. Interesting bits: the plan for a Player's book and a Gamemaster's book, the Antinomy chapter, and other things.

The next post (April 11, 2010) mentions that the beta version of the 1st draft is now with Holistic Design people, and they're waiting for the feedback so that they can do their revisions!

Sadly, the next post (May 21, 2010) notes that development on FS3 is slow because they are "still waiting for Holistic to get back to us with their review, comments and suggestions/demands for the Player’s Guide". In the next post (July 30, 2010), they once again mention the research and writing being put into Antinomy, and as a fan of the way they work in esoteric bits of religious history into this far future game, I'm optimistic about the way Antinomy will be handled and defined in the future iteration of Fading Suns.

Having put the first draft of the Antinomy chapter to rest, the next post (September 21, 2010) reports some time being spent on space travel, starship crises, and putting a little more meat on this aspect of the game. As an aside, I did always feel a bit miffed that boarding actions, details on space battles, and the logistics of travel, transport of food, etc. Hopefully, we'll see a better effort in this version!

I'm happy to hear that one of my favorite RPGs is still alive, and a new version may see the light of day next year!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Life in a Franchise?

My fascination with the Babylon 5 TV series and the subsequent RPGs has led me to rue the disappearance of the game from Mongoose's stable. That and the fact that there is no new material in TV or in print to sustain the interest.

But a recent article from www.comicbookresources.com may hold some faint hope. A report on a one-man panel by J. Michael Straczynski we hear:

"“I said to Warner Bros. a while back, 'When you’re ready to do something real with 'Babylon 5,' either a big-budget film or a TV show, if you want to do one of those two things, call me, otherwise don’t bother me.' About a month ago the phone rang. I don’t know where this is gonna go yet, but when they call you, there’s something going on. I can’t tell you what it is yet and it may not go anywhere, but there is movement in the tall grass.” When asked later, Straczynski said no new “Babylon 5” comics were in the works."

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Return to the Worlds of the Pancreator

I recently got the chance to run Fading Suns again.

It was nice to revisit the worlds of the Pancreator, to touch the dark between the stars, to inflict the strange mixture of science fiction and mysticism and horror on my players.

Fading Suns is one of my favorite settings for a number of reasons.

First, it manages to draw on a number of primary influences yet put different interpretations and spins on various elements, making it something new. One can certainly see the influence of Dune and the worlds of Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos setting as well. I'm tempted to throw in Feersum Endjinn and Against a Dark Background by Iain Banks as well.

Second, because of the way the setting has been constructed, there are many ways to "re-purpose" other gaming content and slot it into the setting. Got a dungeon crawl? You can have your players visit a Lost World to retrieve an artifact from an underground complex (now infested with the local inhabitants and whatever traps were left behind). Magic a problem? Consider them Psychic abilities or Theurgical benefices that are at odds with the understanding of the Known Worlds. Have an espionage scenario? Many high tech and low tech targets abound. Have the odd Cthulhu adventure? Whatever the time setting (1890s, 1920s, 1930s, 1990s) you can find a world and a tech level appropriate to your adventure and easily change the existents to fit with the Fading Suns setting.

Apparently the 3rd Edition is still being worked on by Red Brick! Here's hoping it comes out some time this year or next year.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Musings: Railroads, Sandboxes, and highly motivated NPCs

After reading many blog posts about sandboxes, railroads, and the like, I began to think about my own views on the subject of campaign planning for dungeons and dragons.

On the topic of railroading, I have to say that even during the time that the World of Darkness books exploded into gamer awareness -- railroading was a bad word. Dungeon Masters, Storytellers, and your garden variety Game Masters all condemned railroading (defined as forcing players to go down a particular series of encounters where their choices and activities have little to no impact on what happens). Even those who regularly did it in their campaigns felt (either hypocritically or ignorantly) this way. Therefore, to my mind, the assertion that a sandbox setting is superior to a series of railroad-structure adventures is not up for debate.

What is up for (potentially endless) debate is whether or not "adventure path" or "encounter matrix" adventures -- adventures that identify a series of mandatory, likely, unlikely, and random encounters whose circumstances vary based on actions taken by the PCs and reactions of the various NPCs -- should be lumped together with the railroads.

On the topic of story being absent from sandbox settings, my view is that there should be no end to stories in them. There are the big, epic stories that concern the fate of the universe down to the city-state that your PCs inhabit. There are the small stories about the tinker's daughter and the three reagent elixir that's needed to save her life. And there are the stories of the PCs and the important NPCs of the campaign -- which may end happily, tragically, or uselessly, depending on preparations and choices made, and some measure of luck.

On the topic of highly motivated NPCs -- villainous, virtuous, or somewhere in between -- I am very much in favor of them. When I say highly motivated, I refer to NPCs who are driven to do something and appear to have achieved significant things every time they are encountered. These serve several purposes in a campaign (sandbox or not):

  • they reinforce that the world is continuously moving and changing whether or not the PCs are doing something, that the PCs -- while the focus of the game -- are not the center of the world;
  • they bring in rumors, stories, examples of other cultures and technologies from other areas of your campaign setting -- even those not yet explored by your PCs;
  • they can be dark (or light) reflections of your PCs, showing what they might have become had choices and circumstances been different;
  • they can be recurring rivals and enemies whose final defeat is all the more sweet because of the longstanding clashes;
  • they can act as seeded surprises (for good or for ill) that trigger changes in the campaign tone or setting (i.e. the crazy old coot always playing with his puzzle box finally opens a gateway to the abyss, the village idiot whose mad rambling never made sense is cured by a high level cleric and reveals sage-level knowledge of a coming apocalypse, etc.)
On the topic of "the right way of gaming", I heartily agree that if you're having fun, then your way is the right way. I'd also like to point out that just because other people don't play the way you do, it doesn't necessarily mean their style of play is superior or inferior to yours. I liken it to books:
  • sometimes it is about genre preference -- I like private eye novels, but I don't like serial killer stories; I like urban fantasy, but not epic fantasy;
  • sometimes it's about style -- I like Hemingway's terse lean prose over Gabriel Garcia Marquez's lyrical and lengthy magical realism;
  • sometimes it's about the emphasis -- do your prefer your military fiction to focus on the characters or the hardware? should the writing focus on the tactics, or on the heroism (or lack thereof)?
  • sometimes it's about variety -- I can't read more than three books in a series vs. the more books in a series the better.
People like different things, for different reasons, and people change over the years. And yet somethings will always remain close to their hearts. And ultimately, if they enjoy those things for whatever reason, isn't that what matters?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Tips on Gaming in the Philippines from Pointyman2000

There's a good set of tips from pointyman2000 about getting started in the tabletop RPG hobby in the Philippines here. Read!

Interview from the Society

There's an interview of Scott Aniolowski -- a longtime contributor to much Call of Cthulhu material -- over at the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. Read!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roleplaying in the Worlds of Star Trek -- Part I

So, the new Star Trek movie was a hit and will probably spawn more sequels that are hopefully of the same caliber or better.

It's only natural that gamers will turn their thoughts to gaming in the Star Trek universe. What games and resources are out there for the gamer seeking to play in the universe of the Federation?

Licensed Star Trek Role-Playing Games

Surely there's been a Star Trek RPG out there? Why not just go out and buy it?

Well, there have been several Star Trek RPGs. The first one was by FASA -- no, wait!

The first Star Trek RPG was published in 1978 by Heritage Models, if Wikipedia is to be believed. It was called Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier and covered under its license the original series and the animated series.

The next Star Trek RPG was FASA's, and it came out between 1982 to 1989. It was based on the Star Trek universe as defined by the original series, the animated series, some fan fiction, and the novels of noted Star Trek novelist John M. Ford (particularly his rationale for the two apparently wildly different looking Klingons in the series). Non-gamers actually welcomed this RPG and assumed that the source material found in it was canon. They were disabused of this notion when Star Trek: The Next Generation came out in 1987 and eliminated the concepts of "Imperial" Klingons, "human-fusion" Klingons, and "Romulan-fusion" klingons, replacing them with the Viking Samurai Klingons who had joined the Federation.

Then came Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek RPG, which was called Star Trek: The Next Generation Role-playing game. It received the 1998 Origins Award for Best Role-playing Game and came out with a lot of source material. In fact, they intended on coming out with a core rulebook for each of the Star Trek TV series, and nearly succeeded (they came out with a Deep Space 9 core book, and an Original Series corebook) but lost the license to Decipher before they could finish. It's rumored that they intended to come out with a Voyager core book, but it's doubtful that they would have ever considered the other, always forgotten Star Trek TV series (Star Trek: the Animated Series).

Decipher's Star Trek RPG came out in 2002. It was called the Star Trek Roleplaying Game. They came out with several books, including:

  • Book 1: Star Trek Roleplaying Game Player's Guide (2002)
  • Book 2: Star Trek Roleplaying Game Narrator's Guide (2002)
  • Book 3: Starfleet Operations Manual (2003)
  • Book 4: Starships (2003)
  • Book 5: Aliens (2003)
  • Book 6: Creatures (2003)

and several others, but ceased publishing and producing the RPG in 2007. And that's where that road ends.

Fortunately, there are alternate roads.

There was an RPG published by Task Force Games in 1993 (!) called Prime Directive. It is set in the Star Fleet Universe - a Paramount-sanctioned spin-off intellectual property that is essentially the original series + the animated series but never mentions certain things, like "Trek" or "Kirk" or "Spock", but does include Klingons, and Romulans, and Constitution-class ships... For old-school wargamers, yes, this is the same universe that the war games Federation Commander and the vernerable Star Fleet Battles are set in. Interestingly enough, that the author of the original Heritage Games Star Trek RPG has a connection to Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc., the long-time publishers of Star Fleet Battles.

When Task Force Games folded, the game was ported into two other systems: GURPS Prime Directive and D20 Prime Directive.

Of course, if neither of these appeal to you, there are non-licensed RPGs that can deliver a similar Star Trek feel...

continued in Part II

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Beej

I don't actually know GM Beej that well.

His name has come up on the Alliance of Eclectic Gamers and Interactive Storytellers (AEGIS) mailing list, most recently announcing the release of a D&D 4E supplement titled Tikbalang: Guardians of Kalikasan.

He became aware of me, however, through this blog and my recent post on Filipino fantasy settings. We got in touch with each other and so I sent him the interview questionnaire. Here's the result:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
I have some dim memories about playing a sort-of RPG with a bunch of classmates back in 3rd grade. One person would be the storyteller, while the rest enacted characters in a familiar TV show (at the time, the most common would have to be the first Power Rangers, and everybody wanted to be green and avoided pink like the plague). We had no dice to roll - we instead used the DBZ "Charge" kid-game to handle combat.

An aside: Charge is a very fast game that we used to play as kids, and I'm sure many kids of my generation played a version of it. Here's how our version worked: Two players would choose a cartoon/sentai/fighting game/anime character. Each turn of play is done by clapping both hands together and then making a move. The moves are either a charge, or attacks that the character is known to do - kamehameha, hadouken, ray gun, slice with green ranger's dagger, etc. Each attack, however, will only damage the opponent's life by the number of charges the player already made. The other rules, like how much life a player has, how many charges it will take to have your kamehameha destroy a planet (50?), blocking, etc are as mutable as the whims of a nine-year old.

Now that I think about it, the nine-year old who thought of incorporating such a simple game with storytelling is a genius. Six kids could sit in a circle, clap at the same time, and  resolve a combat scenario in one or two minutes - not even the fastest pen-and paper RPGs could do that.

It would be a full ten years before I rolled up my first D&D 3.5 character, so I guess Storytelling Charge qualifies as my first.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
Let's fast-forward to D&D 3.5 and beyond from here on in. 3.5 had just come out, and I had money then, so I decided to buy the Player's Handbook on a whim. My character was a wizard, and you could say that I was spellbound. I kept reading through the various spells in the PHB, and I was mesmerized by the promise of eventually learning ever more powerful spells.

Eventually, however, it evolved from just wanting to get to epic levels. While my fellow (optimizer) players jumped from character to character, I stuck with my wizard all throughout. As such, my DM at the time was able to weave my character's story really well, and I became as invested in his character development as a dedicated viewer would become invested in a telenovela's main heroine.

Character growth, which began with getting more and more experience points and evolved into watching my characters grow from "naive farm boy" to "contemplative Jedi Grandmaster," remains as my motivation to keep playing to this day.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
I first became a GM out of convenience - our constant GM at the time was suffering a burnout, and he wanted to become a player, for a change. No one else wanted to take the role, so I took initiative and grabbed it. What kept me coming back, however, was how much I sucked at the job initially: I let a total of ten people join in one game, I gave them outrageously powerful opponents to compensate, characters died left and right, and so people kept making new characters. My only saving grace was that I knew the mechanics of the game (D&D 3.5) very well.

My games were a mess, and to me that was a challenge. I was challenged to run something worth playing, and luckily, I had players that stuck with me through all that disastrous gaming. There were a lot of hits and misses, but sometime during the third or fourth campaign I was running, someone told me, "That was a great game!" From then on I was hooked. Why do I want to run RPGs? It's because I'm a sucker for praise. That may sound selfish, but it also means that I'm always doing my best to run a great game.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Brother's War, a novel set in Magic: The Gathering's world of Dominaria. - The brothers Urza and Mishra grow from young best of friends to bitter old rivals, and the novel was the first one that taught me how to use grey areas instead of black-and-white "good vs evil." Jeff Grubb also handles the passage of time really well, not just showing characters growing old, but having changes in the objects and the environment as well.

Other than that, however, I haven't read too many novels that inspire my games. My focus is instead in short stories. It takes skill to craft a world in a limited number of words. While campaigns may last for months or even years, it's best to settle on the story. Sometimes, novels take too much time exploring the world at the expense of the story's progression.

One short story that I keep going back to whenever I work on Buan (my Filipino-themed Campaign Setting for D&D) is the "Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak" (by Ian Casocot available online at the PSF sampler). That story was able to balance the feel and power scale of our epics with a feeling of being fresh and new. Through Buan, I hope to do something similar by interpreting the stories of old into the newer medium of storytelling that is D&D.

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Sliders - It may have bombed from the 3rd season onwards (darn you Kromaggs!), but I stuck to this series from the beginning up until its cliffhanger ending. Sliders is an inspiration because it shows that worlds can become drastically different from our own by simply altering one element. What if Egypt is still a world power? What if penicillin was never discovered? What changes, and what stays the same? These questions are especially useful when running a game set in the modern world.

Rome - Historically inaccurate in many respects, HBO's Rome nevertheless presents an array of characters that fit very well into any fantasy world. From the badassery of the soldiers Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus to the literal backstabbing of the the Roman senators, I was able to model numerous NPCs to populate my games.

When I next run an Eberron game, I will be sure to take inspiration from both shows of the Fullmetal Alchemist series. Militaristic nations, forbidden arts, and the fusion of magic and technology are prevailing themes in both shows, a trait that they share with D&D's latest campaign setting.

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick - My main game system right now is D&D 4E, where the player characters are a cut above everyone else. Riddick is the perfect example of such a character.

The Dark Knight aka the Joker movie - The joker is the poster boy of the chaotic evil alignment in D&D, and whenever I have a chaotic evil villain these days, I use this movie's Joker as the measuring stick. He is also a a good model for most recurring villains - the types that really get to the player character's skins.

That already makes three, right? No, I have to mention one more? Well, then it will have to be all six Star Wars films. A lot of people don't like the prequel movies, but they did give us Darth Maul, the purple lightsaber, and Yoda fight scenes. (Of course, the original movies are still hold a place in my geeky heart.)

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
I think it's fairly obvious that I'm a D&D guy, and 4E for me is the best interpretation of the game to date. I am aware that in many ways, the whole class and level system limits D&D somewhat. And from time to time, I run or play in other RPGs to clean the gaming taste buds (did that make sense?). Right now, I'm running a Dark Heresy game, and I've been itching to run a Changeling: The Lost game - diwata style.

But I will keep going back to D&D because of two things. 1st, I know the rules inside and out, and whenever I think of a creative scenario, I can model it with the D&D rules without consulting the books too much. 2nd, when casual gamers think of pen and paper RPG's, the D&D brand simply wins out. So when people are interested in trying out RPGs, D&D is usually the game they have in mind.

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
I would have to go with the Fiendish Codex series of late D&D 3.5. These are actually two supplements, with the first focusing on chaotic demons and the second focusing on the tyrannical devils. I love these two books because there's so much information on the 666 (infinite) abyssal layers and the nine hells, as well as its denizens. Also, unlike their predecessor (The Book of Vile Darkness), the codexes don't give me that ever-so-slight Catholic guilt from reading them.

Even though I don't run 3.5 anymore, I still keep going back to these two for motivations in a 4E campaign. 4E supplements, in contrast, are easy to reference in game, but there's really no motivation to just sit down and read the books.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
Always is such a strong word. For the longest time I've wanted to play in NWoD without any supernatural powers whatsoever (I hear Hunter: The Vigil does that pretty well).

But recently, I shelved that idea, and I instead want to play Fantasy Flight Games' latest rendition of Warhammer Fantasy. They have unique dice (no numbers!), decks of cards, various counters, and even something that's called the party sheet to determine how well the characters work as a group.  Added together, it actually kind of looks like a CCG rather than an RPG, but I personally like a lot of visual aids for my games.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?
Mostly, I'm looking forward to my own releases. I have another supplement for D&D 4E coming out soon, entitled, Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors. It has eight new monsters (nine, if you count the manananggal twice), mostly for the early levels of play. Beyond that, I really want to see myself releasing more and more Filipino-themed supplements. My hope is to get D&D players everywhere to become more familiar with our own fantastical creatures.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Musings: A Filipino Fantasy Setting

Many of the attempts that I've seen on a Filipino fantasy RPG setting tend to be this: a mostly historical setting dappled with mystical elements from local myth and folklore. While this approach tends to work for an urban fantasy setting, inspiration stemming largely from the example of White Wolf's World of Darkness, I find it odd that there aren't more varied takes -- especially with the variety present in local TV, films, komiks, and other locally produced fantasy media.

Of course, it's very easy to snipe from the sidelines, so since I've prepared the noose for others, I might as well start some work on what I'd like to see in such a setting.

1st Principle: Historical inspiration over historical accuracy
Don't be a slave to history; tweak, alter, and ignore history to make the setting interesting -- which is good considering that the history wasn't that pretty (especially for us Filipinos).

2nd Principle: Only the names have changed
There are some cultural and behavioral patterns that seem to repeat themselves a lot in our history, and -- big and small -- they should make their way into the setting. Otherwise, why'd we even call it one? Some things that come to mind are:
  • religious tensions and evolutions - before the Spaniards came over to disseminate Roman Catholicism, religion was a mix of animist beliefs, the muslim contingent (which was never completely eradicated in places in the Southern area), and whatever else came over with the traders from nearby countries (China, we're looking at you); this kind of religious diversity, openness, and intolerance must be an element.
  • cultural tensions - as an archipelago of 7,100 islands (give or take given the tide) with mountain ranges and valleys, and a host of caverns and other natural barriers and natural resources, there were a lot of varied clans/tribes/alliances that developed their own languages and customs, warred against each other, and even "betrayed" one another when the Spaniards came to invade; this kind of factionalism and divisiveness must also be an element.
  • adventuring tropes - with D&D as an inspiration, we look for adventuring sites. Wilderness adventures are an obvious choice, but cave-based "dungeons" may be done as well. City-based adventures would work, along with the smaller towns ravaged by a single creature or a small horde of 'monsters' attacking the town. There's no shortage of local creatures to fight: higantes, aswangs, pugos, kapres, tikbalangs, manananggals, engkantos, etc. Sadly, most of the big structures were built by the Spaniards (that we know of), so we'll have to be creative if we want some kind of break from this disparity. Magic systems will be interesting -- various types of local witchcraft, and local bits of color like anting-antings and oracions; these must be represented in some way as well.
3rd Principle: It's a game, man
Don't include all sorts of historical details that would make otherwise interesting characters and locales difficult or depressing to game in. While RPGs can, of course, illuminate our understanding of history, historical simulation is not the main goal.

Furthermore, there are other RPG-related concerns: game balance (or lack thereof), abilities that can consistently be represented by rulesets, thematic decisions, the ability to inspire a sense of wonder, and so on.

Okay, let's let this percolate a while before we take our first stabs at this. For inspiration, I'm gonna post pics of local fantasy film examples:

Ang Panday, immortalized by FPJ, a couple of characters from Engkantadia, and the Mulawin movie.



Saturday, April 10, 2010

Free RPG Alert: Chronicles of the Drenai

GM Dariel is a busy person! If you're a fan of the late David Gemmel's work, and have been wanting to adventure in his worlds, there a free RPG available at 1KM1KT by GM Dariel!

He's done a number of these RPGs over the years, and I wouldn't be surprised if we run into a few more as we go along. In the meantime, I encourage you to take a look at this RPG and any of his work on the net.

Right now, he's busy on another RPG project in addition to his photography and modding hobbies.

Hats off to you, GM Dariel! Keep the good stuff coming.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What's the Campaign Premise?

First off, I'm making up a term here, so sorry if your usage of the phrase "campaign premise" differs from mine.

A campaign premise is different from the campaign setting. It is based on the concept of a series premise, which is also different from a series setting. Here's an example of two series premises -- both set in the same, er, setting:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a young woman attending a small town high school discovers that she is the latest in a line of Slayers -- young women chosen by fate to battle against vampires, demons, and other forces of darkness. Aided by a Watcher (guide, teacher, trainer and source of useful exposition), and a circle of loyal (though not entirely normal) friends, she faces off against these creatures drawn or spawned by the Hellmouth.
  • Angel: A vampire whose human soul was restored to him as a punishment  -- tormented with guilt and remorse -- works as a private detective in Los Angeles, California. Along with a variety of associates they  "help the helpless" and "save the powerless", normally doing battle with evil demons or demonically allied humans who are increasingly affiliated with a supernaturally evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.

Same setting, different unifying concept that plausibly (or implausibly in some causes) rationalizes the monster of the week that plagues this type of show.

So how is this useful for D&D-type campaigns?

For people like me who want some kind of plausibility and perhaps continuity in a campaign, I like to think in terms of campaign premises because it helps me address several issues that often challenge plausibility and continuity, such as:

  • "How many of these things are there?" - assuming it's not a mega-dungeon and you've got sufficient time and skill to go through a dungeon in a single gaming session, after several months you (or your players) may begin to wonder exactly how many of these dungeons got the countryside, how they keep happening upon missions and rumors about them, and how they might be able to earn money as a dungeon construction company;
  • "I'm his sister, Red Dougal." - PCs tend to die without hope for resurrection, necessitating fresh PCs to reinforce the party, and it's not necessarily fun to role-play the sometimes in-dungeon meet-and-greet. I mean, would you really trust some creature that suddenly appears -- fully decked out in adventuring gear -- during your adventure?
  • "No one's heard from them since!" - A total party kill means another group of adventurers must show up and go through the dungeon as well. How do they know about it, and why weren't they hot on the heels of the last party, and good thing there are a lot of adventurers just waiting to go out on these expeditions immediately after the last one failed to return. If the party was trying to complete a series of quests to stop some evil overlord thing -- so much for all the clues and continuity built up with the last group!

A good campaign premise can address some, if not all of these problems. And while they may seem hokey, to me that's better than no attempt at plausibility at all! Here are some off the top of my head (gleefully ripped off from various media):

The Goons of the Invincible Overlord

Inspired by the X-files, there is an organization that recruits, trains, and sends out adventurers that deal with various problems of the empire/city-state. Most of their jobs are more mundane: breaking up/enforcing monopolies, weeding out enemies of the state, stopping rebellions, investigating high-profile crimes.

But a small group of adventurers are awarded/punished with the "short-straw" missions -- clearing out humanoid infestations along the borderlands, securing rumored caches of fiercely-guarded locations of ancient treasure, investigating rumors of unusual deaths in outlying towns and villages, and the ever-popular "it may be nothing, but it doesn't hurt to check if there really is a tomb of a lich there, and yes you have to pay for everything for this expedition yourself".

If you wish to retain the 'sandbox' feel, (and remind the players that there ain't no such thing as 'script immunity') make sure there are a cast of NPCs and PCs up for this unusual type of work in the organization, keep a constantly updated list of mission listings (and rumors about them from other folks in the org) and have entire groups of them die, or returned horribly maimed.

Also remember that -- early on in the X-files series -- Fox Mulder was granted access to the X-files casework because of his excellence in serial killer profiling. The reward for a job well done may well be that characters can eventually pick their own missions. Just like their superiors are probably doing.

Settings that seem easily adaptable to this concept would be the CityState of the Invincible Overlord and the Majestic Wilderlands.

Port of Call

Inspired by the Babylon 5 core idea ("we don't seek adventure, adventures seek us out"), this campaign premise establishes the adventurer pool as residents with many organizational, institutional, and personal attachments to a city located at the crossroads of adventure. Key members of the party may find out about a potential wilderness trek or dungeon crawl from a dying man in a tavern, an unusual altercation in the market square, or from strange new travelers arriving at the docks.

Travel to new locations can be over land as part of a caravan, or via sea trading routes. Powerful political factions with their own agendas can also set themselves up in the city and cause trouble, resulting in occasional city-based adventures. Established patrons may be able to tie loose strands of rumor and fact together and urge the party out with specific missions -- and handsome rewards.

Freeport seems like a nice fit for this type of campaign premise.

Triskadekaturions

Inspired by TV shows Warehouse 13 and Friday the 13th, the PCs are part of a secret organization trained and tasked with the recovery and nullification of various ancient mystical threats and artifacts of varying degrees of power. There are powerful NPCs who both help and hinder the PCs (many which are doomed to die, retire, fall from grace and in general be replaced by one or more of the PCs). There is potential for  betrayals and power struggles, and some pretty nasty rival organizations and lone wolf operatives as well.

Great for campaigns that want an excuse to roll out world backstory exposition quickly, but with the occasionally annoying "need to know basis" stonewall from superiors. Tends to raise the question: who's bankrolling these operations and why do they really want us to recover and eliminate all this stuff? Resolving that question tends to make a great transition into another type of campaign premise.

Both Greyhawk and Mystara (because of the Blackmoor and Immortal/Gods elements) seem particularly apropos for lots of ancient artifact retrieval.

Earthdawn

No really! I like the setting's history and how it sets up the rationale for many underground lairs, cities and mega-dungeons. Essentially, at some point near the height of an ancient set of empires in the past -- the stars became "right". Terrifyingly powerful, maddeningly cruel outsiders and elder beings entered reality and ravaged the world and drove even some of the gods insane. Fortunately, oracles and seers saw it coming and were able to convince a lot of civilizations to prepare. Unfortunately, not all of their preparations worked.

Now that the stars are no longer exactly "right", but still "right enough" for the lesser outsiders and elder beings to exist in a greatly weakened fashion, the remnants of various empires and powers are sending out people to investigate, reclaim, and cleanse the glories of the past.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Resources for "Sandbox" Creation

While I wasn't looking, a "relatively" new term sprung up in the gaming lingua franca: the 'sandbox'.

I'm not entirely certain about the origins, though I believe that it may have originated from the IT term for an isolated server or workspace within a server that is effectively segregated from everything else in the network -- you can do whatever you want in it and it won't affect anything outside it.

In modern gaming parlance, the sandbox apparently refers to -- and I'm doing this purely from context clues -- a style of play where players are dumped into a campaign setting that can be as small as a dungeon or as large as a  world map and are free to pursue whatever agendas they wish.

Furthermore, it seems to be used as the opposite of 'story-driven' play -- which, in many OSR blog posts, seems to be used synonymously with GM 'railroading' (a more commonly used term that has seen longer and more widespread usage in gaming circles).

In any case, I've decided to find out more about this old/new style of play and am hunting down posts concerning sandbox creation.  Here are a couple of excellent meta-posts from A Bat in the Attic.

Fantasy Sandbox Creation
Traveller Sandbox Creation

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Bit of Old News

In my effort to collate the recollections of many old school gamers from their blogs, I ran across a 2008 review of a Free RPG on the Free RPG Blog and found that the RPG in question had been developed by GM Dariel!

GM Dariel was, of course, interviewed at the game table some time back. He is, of course, hard at work on a top secret RPG (in between work and other hobbies, of course).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Piecemeal History of Gaming #2

Well, there's an interesting site that I must recommend: Greg Stafford's Chaosium Page. What's this page about? Here's what he says it's about:
Chaosium, Inc. is one of my proudest accomplishments. 
Chaosium was one of the original companies for the Hobby Game Industry, and was famous for its innovative and professionally produced product. 
I founded it in 1975 and ran it, as president, from then until 1998. 
Here is a collection of articles, reminiscences and other stories about my time there.
It's not complete, but it's got a bunch of interesting articles. Here are the most interesting to me:
  • Founding of Chaosium [link]
  • All about RuneQuest, especially three separate articles by Greg Stafford, Ray Turney and Steve Perrin [link]
  • How Call of Cthulhu came to be [link]
  • The Histories of the Chaosium RPGs [link]

Piecemeal History of Gaming #1

I keep running into great resources on the behind-the-DM's-screen, back-in-my-day, secret history of RPGs, but in short, though not always bite-size pieces.

Here's the first set of links in my attempt to collect them all.

Various Links
  • James Maliszewski's excellent series of 'retrospectives' on his blog [link]
  • Jeff Grubb's "Secret Origin" of TSR's Marvel Super-heroes RPG [link]
  • Jeff Grubb's Secret History of the Forgotten Realms [link]
  • An RPG.net thread with newsclippings showing how the D&D/Satanism hoopla played out back in the 70s and 80s [link]
  • All eighteen (18) articles from Shannon Appelcline's "A Brief History of Game" [link]
From Escapist Magazine
  • An article on D&D and its relatively recent Old School Renaissance [link]
  • A Brief History of Champions and the HERO System [link]
  • An article on non-Tolkien fiction that inspired D&D [link]
  • An article on Larry DiTillo -- the guy who wrote Masks of Nyarlathotep [link]
  • An article on Steve Long -- the man behind the rebirth of HERO games [link]
  • An article on Marc Miller -- the man behind the first successful science fiction RPG: Traveller [link]

Interesting Posts on GMing!

A post on adding themes into the games you're GMing from Trollsmyth.
MobUnited says that "The Story is So Over."
Former WOTC game designer posts his philosophy and views on intro RPGs.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Right Way to Roleplay

Everyone knows that old adage: if your group is having fun, then your way of roleplaying is the right way of roleplaying.

Time after time, however, discussions and opinions emerge about the right way to roleplay. Discussion and arguments tend to gravitate around these issues:

  • Player knowledge vs. character knowledge - some people believe that as a role-playing exercise, the integrity of the experience is compromised if a character acts on knowledge that he/she cannot possibly have. This includes the location of secret doors and traps, the weaknesses of certain monsters, and creating gunpowder in a campaign where the tech level just doesn't support it. Other believe that since it's a game, past meta-gaming experience should inform current gameplay -- otherwise we're just gonna keep getting killed in the same damn area by the same badly-designed killer dungeon.
  • Player skill vs. character skill - if you are naturally charming and cunning, then your skill at bargaining, lying, and seducing people at the gaming does not stem from your character's abilities but from your own. Some styles of play support this, and encourage otherwise not-so outgoing players to stretch themselves a bit. On the other hand, if your character is clearly a stupid oaf in conception, coming up with an uncharacteristically brilliant idea also stretches credulity.
  • Character-is-me vs. character-isn't-me - some people create characters that are slightly better/worse/different versions of themselves, while others create very different characters each time character creation rolls around. The former are sometimes looked down upon for being not very original, while the latter run the risk of being labeled drama-hogs and frustrated thespians. Both tend to incur this type of loss of respect if their role-playing habits or personalities (real of affected) rub other players the wrong way a lot.
  • Roll-playing vs. Role-playing - seemingly the opposite of the first two issues, this centers around a player (and sometimes GM) reliance on the dice to determine everything, regardless of the skill, decisions and gameplay involved.


In my personal opinion, the issues mentioned above aren't a black & white thing (you either are, or you aren't crap). Normally, there are gradations along a continuum along with other mitigating circumstances that complicate them.

Will try to tackle each of these issues one-by-one to see how the possible histories and nuances of these issues may have come about, and how the may be resolved at the game table.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Catholic Girls, I mean, Catalyst Games in trouble

There was a bit of a buzz in the past week about Catalyst Games Labs (publisher but apparently not the intellectual property owner of the current incarnations of Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, Battletech and CthulhuTech).

The official word from their website is as follows:
"While we wish the review had only uncovered positive news, we also discovered our accounting procedures had not been updated as the company continued to grow. The result was that business funds had been co-mingled with the personal funds of one of the owners. We believe the missing funds were the result of bad habits that began alongside the creation of the company, which was initially a small hobby group. Upon further investigation, in which the owner has willingly participated, the owner in question now owes the company a significant balance and is working to help rectify the situation."

The unofficial word from the interweb is as follows:
"OK, as you may well have been able to surmise from release schedules, Catalyst Game Labs is in a bit of a financial pickle, and it is somewhat unlikely that they will retain the license to make Shadowrun products. This is not because Shadowrun hasn’t been selling enough to cover expenses, but merely because a significant quantity of money is missing outright. Reliable sources put this figure at roughly $850,000. Which sounds like a lot, and it is. It is roughly 40% of Catalyst’s entire sales for last year, missing over a three year period. There will of course be lawsuits, and there are already people drawing up legal documents accusing..."

So what does this mean for all you die-hard Shadowrun fans out there? Well, if you liked all the 4th edition material you've gotten so far, you may see a change in quality as various members of the writing / editing staff depart the company.

And if you want to panic buy -- just in case Catalyst Games Labs does disappear -- go right ahead. They need the money. Just make sure it goes to the right people, chummer.

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