Sunday, February 28, 2010

Setting Mashup Source #1: Code Black

The first source of inspiration is Code: Black from BTRC by Greg Porter. In this game, where players take on the roles of monster hunters in a world where most people blind themselves to the reality of supernatural beings and outbreaks of supernatural catastrophes.

One of the key concepts that differentiates this setting from a lot of the other monster hunter settings out there is the idea that Earth is a prison for many evil supernatural entities. Reality is a prison, but we're in the equivalent of the house arrest program. The entities that are part of the maximum security program are constantly finding weaknesses in their own prison cells and try to break out causing many of the standard monster types, but also causing zombie outbreaks, Silent Hill-like corruptions of towns, and far more terrible incarnations of the gods and monsters of myth trying to claw their way into our portion of the prison. Buffy-style hellmouths, rips in the fabric of space and time, mad scientists bending the laws of physics, and Hellraiser-type incidents are examples of weaknesses in various interdimensional jail cells invading our cushy little reality.

And the jailers? You don't know. (Although from an omniscient perspective, they're GONE.) There's no one to run to for help.

So how does this apply to a D&D dungeoncrawl-focused campaign?
  • effectively infinite variety in opponents - we can assume that these various nasties can range from entire races of creatures to a single hideously powerful entity trapped in various cells geared to keeping them imprisoned;
  • rationale for different level designs in the same dungeon - these prison dimension are being manipulated or changed enough to intersect with aspects of our own -- hence the sudden changes of dungeon decor and design as you go deeper;
  • different locales for dungeons - they don't all have to take place underground, these sudden outbreaks can hit towns, castles, and even cities;
  • opportunity for different styles of adventures - some adventures can be about clearing out momentary intrusions into our reality from "below", while others can be about sealing off a portal or surviving the sudden changes in the rules of reality long enough to get out of the affected area, still others can be about rescuing a once normal castle that has suddenly ceased communications.
Astute, crafty, and vicious DMs can already see the usefulness of this campaign conceit with regard to breaking the rules of the default reality -- it's another reality bleeding into ours; the rules are different here!

  • an intersect with the realm of the Primarch of Swords: your sentient sword just became more powerful, more intelligent, and demands to be treated as an equal member of your adventuring party;
  • an intersect with the realm of the Rememberers -- the memory-vores: memorized spells don't go away after casting, but each successive use results in the need for an increasingly difficult saving throw -- if you fail, the next time you want to cast another spell you end up casting the spell you've used the most so far;
  • an intersect with the realm of Hunger: you need to eat double the normal amount of food, and successively eating the same type of food reduces the nourishment you get from it. Not so bad for adventurers spending several days in the dungeon, but just think about the monsters that have been trapped in there for months since the change...
Best not to abuse it though. This conceit is best used as a background rationale and a way to tie together various horror inspirations under a single overall concept.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Running a Fantasy Game

Similar to the efforts of Pointyman2000 I'm looking at running a type of RPG I haven't run in a long while. Unlike his efforts -- which are Science Fiction-oriented, mine is Fantasy-oriented. To be specific, it is D&D/AD&D-oriented, perhaps a vain attempt to finally use all those modules I've been accumulating over the years before I finally sell them or donate them to charity.

Furthermore, this campaign will likely be either play-by-post (on a message board or something similar) or use one of those nifty Online RPG tools with chat and shared maps and so on.

It's not really that I'm hungry for gaming -- I am currently playing in a regular campaign. It's more that I haven't been GM in a while and I feel like stretching those muscles. In addition to that, I actually want to DM, probably because of the resurgence of OD&D old school advocacy and the fact that I've largely played in Fantasy RPGs instead of running them. And I've never run a proper dungeon crawl.

As far as the system is concerned, I'm considering two:
  • Labyrinth Lord by Goblinoid Games (a retro-clone) is quite charming especially since my first D&D ruleset was the B/X tandem of rules and I've kinda collected a lot of the Gazetteers and modules over the years;
  • Castles & Crusades (a neo-clone -- is that the right term?) is fascinating because of all the tweaks made to the basic D&D/AD&D ruleset geared towards making characters fast and making gameplay fast.
As far as the setting is concerned, that's where it becomes like Pointyman's "How do I Sci-Fi" series of posts. I'm gonna brainstorm the possible adventures I'd like to run in what is essentially a Mystara-based area (actually, Karameikos would be the background campaign area for all the dungeons).

I'd think that for play-by-post the background campaign area is less important, but for the online gametable sessions it might come in a bit more important.

Other parameters: there should be a consistent reason for new PCs to come into play -- I don't want to have to deal with the following classic scene:
  • DM: "Mere minutes after the loss of Douglas Black to the poisoned porcupine, a lean figure slinks into the room, eyes wild and a bit wary."
  • PC#1: "Halt, who goes there?"
  • New PC: "I am Shadow Doug, and I have been wandering these halls, lost, trying to find a way out."
  • DM: "He looks suspicious."
  • PC#2: "Would you like to come adventuring with us? We seek the secret cavern of the Lich of Darkness!"
  • New PC: "Sure! Could I have Douglass Black's share of the treasure?"
  • PC#1: "Okay, you look trustworthy enough.."
Let's put the kettle on the fire, make some hot cocoa and see what my imagination can come up with.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM JP

If I ever gamed with GM JP, I don't remember the game. I remember running into him during one of the Twilight 2000 runs of GM Bobby, but the rest is all fuzzy.

I do remember that we seemed to share a fascination for games like Delta Green, and the results of this interview certainly show that his interests in gaming run parallel to my own in some areas. Take a look:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
Ah! That would have to be TSR’s Dungeon and Dragons Basic Set, the good ole red box.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
I enjoy how rpgs allow you to participate in a story, to be in the midst of deciding how the direction and ending will come about. To be able to interact with other characters and the surroundings put before you, where the limit is only your imagination.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
I’d have to say its in being able to try to run and tell a good story. The reward is where you see that your friends really enjoyed in participating as well as conveying their character’s roles and actions.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run?
  • Declare by Tim Powers
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (no, not for the vampires but his writing skill in trying to evoke terror and fear --- I believe thats what a gm needs to master if he runs a horror/terror rpg).
What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run?
  • BBC’s Spooks
  • NYPD Blue
  • Jim Henson’s The Story Teller
What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run?
  • Ronin
  • Dog Soldiers
  • Legend
What is your favorite published RPG of all time?
I’d definitely say Chameleon Eclectic’s Millennium’s End but I’d also count in Game Workshop’s 1st edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Millenium's End was the first system that I encountered with a unique way of resolving armed conflict:
  1. it didn't use the standard ablative system, (i.e. hit points);
  2. damage done by weapons to characters translates to almost real world effects;
  3. combat for firearms, armed and unarmed HTH utilizes body maps together with a hit template which lets players know if a hit was successful and at the same time the location of the hit made.
With one roll in combat (say using firearms), you get the result if your hit was successful or not, where exactly it hit, and from the damage of the firearm (hyrdro-shock) what would this potentially result in. A damage table will give impairment levels (i.e. penalties to skills of either physical, mental or both depending what was exactly hit), determine if bones were broken, determine if a critical area was hit (i.e. neck, heart abdomen), establish blood loss (the rate of which will determine how long you have before dying) and shock effects. And yes, all effects ARE cumulative.

This all translates to quite a realistic combat system; it may sound daunting at first, but after maybe 2-3 sessions of getting your feet wet, it's all a snap - with casual references being made to the impairment and damage table.

And all this came out in the early 90's, when at best you only had the general abalative combat system of most systems back then. (There were some exceptions to the ablative mechanisms in the 80s and 90s -- BTRC's first version of TimeLords comes to mind, along with the original combat system for R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk RPG: Friday Night Firefight. -- Blogger-Editor Ka-Blog)

It was a new idea that worked well -- slick and fun. It's just too bad that Charles Ryan the designer and author closed the company Chameleon Eclectic.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay came out around 87-88 I believe

Back then, this puppy was fresh to my gaming group where the standard fantasy staple was D&D and AD&D.

The world was nicely done -- it conveyed an Earth similar to the medieval-renaissance era. Perhaps due to the fashion styles, architecture and technology of the time, it had a similarity of sorts once you read the regions (ex Tilea was a version to our Italy or Estalia was Spain and the Empire was the Holy-Roman empire whose seat was in Germany) even the names of the people and locales lent an air of our real world - in short, it conveyed familiarity without actually being the Europe of our reality.

Mechanics-wise it was (and still is in my opinion) a simple system but didnt gloss over outher nuissances players would enjoy. for instance combat is percentile based and from the one roll you can also glean the hit location (if you roll a "50" and it hits, you read the roll backwards to get the location in this case "05"). Skill base resolutions were also the same.

It was simple and it was sweet; I say this because it was the first game i ever GMed. It wasn't so rules heavy that you'd probably have some measure of memorizing certain points, or so table heavy that you'd have to be constantly flipping pages. You basically just had to understand the order of things and you were off!  As a GM that was a load off my shoulders, allowing me to conentrate more on the story and trying to evoke the feel of the scene at the moment.

It was the late 80's and you had an RPG which was a foray into gothic-fantasy of grim and perilous adventure; what's not to like?

My recommendation: try the first edition first before the others. I've stuck to my copy ever since.

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time?
Man, there are about a dozen I could name right now but if you’re asking just one then it would be, hands down, Pagan Publishing’s Delta Green.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen RPG where you gotta tell a good tale on the wager of cheese, did I get that right?

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?

Well,  so far, there’s...
  • Pagan Publishing’s Targets of Opportunity which is basically further material on the Delta Green milleu as well as some articles and scenarios;
  • Mouse Guard by Archaia Entertainment, I know its based on a comic, but its also an acclaimed comic with a good story, the reviews I’ve read about it say a lot of good things (mechanics wise) about the system (its supposed to be loosely based on Burning wheel);
  • Eclipse Phase by Catalyst Labs, I’ve read a good review about this game which is basically horror/science fiction but I’d definitely like to try this out as a player.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Never judge a book by its cover...

... unless it's from BTRC.

Fires of Heaven is a space opera setting for the EABA system by BTRC. Originally authored by Patrick Sweeney for the Hero System, somehow Greg Porter ended up with it, and it's almost out. In the meantime, enjoy the cover.

Looks nice, doesn't it?

Check out the interview with Greg Porter at RPG Blog II to find out more.

It should be interesting though -- I've enjoyed all the settings that I've picked up from BTRC for the EABA system.

My top faves are Code: Black -- monster-hunting and supernatural investigations with an interesting unifying background; and TimeLords -- a thought-provoking out time-travel campaign setting.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Retro-clones appeal to me

Well, the D&D / AD&D ones do anyway.

The reason: it's a chance to use all the B/X Dungeons & Dragons modules and the all Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules that consume vast amounts of storage space without spending loads of time converting stuff.

That's basically it.

Except that's really not it, or at least, it doesn't explain everything. The more accurate reason: I've only actually run D&D twice. One adventure in grade school, when I didn't even know how RPGs were supposed to be run; and one campaign after college and working and back in the Philippines and using 3E rules and Forgotten Realms setting (which I really wish I'd been able to do more of, but that's another post), and neither of these was a proper dungeon crawl.

Ideally, I'd run a campaign in a primarily Mystara-inspired world (the setting for the B/X D&D game), because I liked several Gazetteers a lot: the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, the Principalities of Glantri, the Republic of Darokin, the Elves of Alfheim, the Dwarves of Rockhome, and the whole Hollow World idea. I also liked the X1 to X3 series of modules, and several of the B-series modules.

To round out the world, I'd slot some AD&D module locations  into the overall map and history. The Saltmarsh series (U1 through U3), the Tomb of Horrors, the Temple of Elemental Evil series, etc.

Then, I'd tear out various portions of the map where the Gazetteer series kinds stumbled, or where non-Mystaran settings have far more interesting implications for the world at large. Farewell, Kingdom of Ierendi -- I think we'll try to shoehorn the City-State of the Invincible Overlord or Freeport into your slot. Good-bye, Five Shires, maybe we can transplant a Champion of Mystra-less version of the Dalelands into your area.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Dariel

To my knowledge, I have ever gamed with GM Dariel, though we have chatted (in person and on the interweb) about RPGs, game systems, game design, writing fiction, and the early days of the Alliance of Eclectic Gamers and Interactive Storytellers (AEGIS).

He currently maintains a blog on gaming, F&SF, and writing at The Madman's Cave.

And here are his surprising answers to the questionnaire:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
D&D, using the red Basic books, back in '91. I actually got into gaming relatively late in life - I was already done with college by that time, while most of my peers had been gaming since either high school or college. I think that's a major factor affecting my taste in games -- for one thing, I've never been fully able to enjoy D&D. There was always something missing in the experience, fun as it was.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
There've always been two great facets of the hobby that I liked - first was being involved in an evolving story of adventure and exploration, and second was the social interaction with friends. Under the latter I'll also lump in the incredible amount of time I've spent laughing while playing and after -- my first gaming group had a very wacky sense of humor, and it's something I've brought with me and perhaps even amplified a bit when I started GM'ing, myself.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
The same reasons I enjoyed playing, plus one more -- I love world-building and entertaining others with my creations. One thing you'll notice about the games I run is that I always try to give a detailed, life-like world, and that I always make the game's challenges and scenarios revolve around elements of that world. So for example when I ran a game based on the legends of Cuchulainn, I made ancient Celtic beliefs in honor and the world of Faerie central to the game.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
I've only run one game that was directly based on a single novel, and that was my Red Branch campaign based on Morgan Llywellyn's novel of the same title. Maybe a better answer to your question is to list which authors have most influenced my games: they're Robert E. Howard, Poul Anderson, and Frank Herbert.

From Howard I got my narrative technique, my ideas of pacing, and my taste for running combats in a cinematic style. From Poul Anderson I derived a love for finely crafted and detailed worlds, whether fantasy or science fiction. And from Herbert's Dune saga I picked up a taste for mining history for ideas and using the machinations of various NPCs to drive the story.

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
I don't watch TV much, and interestingly enough I've found no taste for the current crop of fantasy and science fiction TV series, so my answer to this one is - zilch. I do mine the Discovery Channel and Nat Geo a lot for ideas and info, however. (Blogowner Alex: I wonder if this includes such shows as Meerkat Manor and Mythbusters)

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
The three movies that most directly inspired game ideas were of course Star Wars, the 1970s adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King, and - uh, can I mention Legend of the Overfiend? No? Guess I'll have to stick with the Star Wars series and Man Who Would Be King then.

Star Wars is of course seminal to the SF gaming as a whole, it's easy for any player to get into because it's a well-known franchise, and I've always enjoyed the idea of the Jedi and the fact that a Jedi's life is one of constant testing and temptation by the Dark Side. You'll never lack for story material with those premises.

The Man Who Would Be King on the other hand helped inspire the visuals and some scenarios for a game I ran entitled Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. The title and idea -- Victorian era explorers in the wilds of Central Asia -- were inspired by a history book. The movie decided me on setting the game in 1870s Afghanistan, inspired some of the character concepts (I used pregenerated characters as it was a playtest of my Cineflex system), and some setting details, the idea of a hidden kingdom lost since Alexander the Great's time. The setting's also one I'm very interested in, as I've hiked in Kashmir and lived a year in India.

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
For me this would be West End Games' version of Star Wars. It was the first system I ever encountered that espoused a cinematic way of doing things, an enormous and refreshing change from D&D and AD&D. The idea blew my mind. I'll also have to mention my love for Pendragon, which I think is the most immersive RPG I've ever encountered.

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
I'd say the one I enjoyed the most was Pagan Shore, by Chaosium. It gave very good information and rules for a milieu I was very interested in, the pre-Christian Celtic kingdoms of Ireland. I was already loving the Pendragon RPG, but when Adrian showed me this supplement I was really impressed. Pagan Shore laid down in very easy to understand terms what it was like to be a character living in that milieu, which is great for players, and gave lots of ideas for adventures and elements to introduce to the game. The result was my Red Branch campaign, which to this day I think was the best I ever ran.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
Fading Suns. Loved the setting and its ideas.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?
My own :-D. I'm looking for illustrators so I can ready Sea Rovers of Syrene for publication, everything's already written. This RPG will be a distillation of the things I love best -- exploration and a sense of wonder, the sea and sailing, the Arabian Nights, and the richness of Asia. There's more to Asian gaming than ninjas and Shaolin monks and Hong Kong gangsters, so SRS will be my contribution to that.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Old School Gaming Experience

Before I got to the U.S. and found other gamers in high school, I didn't have much of an old school experience beyond reading my growing collection of TSR games (AD&D, D&D, Top Secret, Star Frontiers) and occasionally trying to play it with friends in Ateneo de Manila Grade School.

Once in the U.S., I found out about the Beresford Recreation Center in San Mateo and the group called "Creative Imaginations" and tried to find a gaming group. My earliest games: a string of Traveller games at the tail-end of a faltering campaign, short but intense Call of Cthulhu adventures, and a series of AD&D adventures set in his home-brew setting "The World of the Great Wheel" by Bill Homeyer.

It was a great time; I was willing to play any game, willing to build characters for games like Aftermath! or Stalking the Night Fantastic or DragonQuest for a night of gaming despite the lack of assurance that the same game would be played the next week.

And there was good ol' Phil, the Parks & Recreations janitor. A nice man who really, really felt that we were all playing these demonic games and would tell us this if asked. We all had a lot of respect for him, because he voiced his opinion to us whenever the topic came up -- but he always talked to us as equals, which was a big thing since most of us were in the high school / early college years.

The games that comprised most of my so-called 'old school' experience: AD&D, Call of Cthulhu, Star Wars, and Champions.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Multiverse of D&D Rulesets

For the longest time -- for good or for ill -- the public face of the role-playing game industry was Dungeons & Dragons. In some circles, your gaming age could easily be established by answering what version of Dungeons & Dragons you first played. (It's a trick question -- by mentioning 3E, 3.5, or 4th edition you're branded as a relative newbie -- old school gamers played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, though they may have started with the Basic & Expert Sets and perhaps even the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set). Many of us older gamers remember struggling to explain newer RPGs to non-gamers and eventually resorting to: "it's like Dungeons and Dragons, but in space / in modern times / with bunnies."

These days, there are many RPGs out in the market. Not only are companies like White Wolf steadily putting out gaming lines like the New World of Darkness and Exalted; not only are companies like Mongoose Publishing churning out updated classic lines like Runequest and Traveller; there are a stunning amount of novel-, movie-, and TV-related properties that have come out with their own RPGs.

There are the UniSystem series of  RPGs: the Buffy RPG, the Angel RPG, and the Army of Darkness RPG. Battlestar Galactica, Firefly/Serenity, Stargate, and Farscape all have RPGs, and venerable properties like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek have all had multiple RPGs.

So RPGs are more than just Dungeons & Dragons. Is that news? Not to long-time gamers.

What may be news is that the Dungeons & Dragons is undergoing some interesting churn and changes.

Third Edition boom; Fourth Edition backlash

The Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (commonly referred to as 3E) -- thoroughly hyped pre- and post-release -- did really well. Furthermore, the D20 and Open Gaming licenses helped spur a number of game companies to support the latest incarnation of the game that started it all.

Then came Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 -- the half-version upgrade of 3E --  and there was an uneasy stir in the ranks of the Dungeon Masters, players and publishers.

Technically, if the DM and players are flexible and open-minded, you could get away with using the old 3E settings, adventures, and other source material with the latest and greatest version of D&D. But you couldn't really market your stuff as 3.5-compatible. And some of the rules arguably made some DMs and players want all their source material to be 3.5-compatible. And the newest converts to the hobby wouldn't want to buy those obviously outdated 3E sourcebooks and settings.

So some the periodicals and publishing companies that had survived the boom-and-bust of the original 3E/D20 upsurge made the jump to 3.5, a little bit worried about their product line strategies given the obvious intent to produce a 4th edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game in the future.

When Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition came out, several things began to happen:
  • Wizards of the Coast (the company that took over the reins of the Dungeons & Dragons from TSR) changed enough of the rules to make it as different as 3E had been from AD&D 2nd Edition;
  • Wizards of the Coast was also shifting away from the D20/OGL strategy and adopting some online game support strategies in pursuit of new revenue streams;
  • D20 & OGL publishers who had already created their own games based on the core ruleset (like Spycraft, True20, and Mutants and Masterminds) continued to take their games further from D20-ness;
  • Game publishers who had thrown a lot of time, money, and product behind 3E and 3.5 decided to create their own 3.5-inspired rulesets (Pathfinder, I'm looking at you) that were decidedly NOT D&D 4th Edition so that their project pipelines would (a) not require too much retooling and (b) be less affected by the business decisions of another game company;
  • A bunch of gamers and game publishing professionals -- some already disgruntled with the major changes that 3E had made to their favorite RPG, others feeling nostalgic for old school gaming -- decide to expand on the D20/OGL opportunity and the implementation of the copyright rules for games and create open content game rule sets that replicate various pre-3E incarnations of D&D (and join forces with the various bloggers, message boards, and other online communities that have been keeping the OD&D, B/X, and AD&D flame alive.

Further Reading:

"Full Circle: A History of Old School Revival" from The Escapist
"Retro-clones" from The Escapist
"An essay on 'Old School Gaming'" from TARGA
"Old is new again"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Tobie

And rounding out this batch of Game Table interviewees, we have GM Tobie. GM Tobie is one of the local GMS who has been very active in promoting the hobby here in Manila -- he used to hold short campaign runs geared toward new players, and at one point juggled two or three regular campaigns (if memory serves). He also dressed up for the kids at the New Worlds conventions to get them to roll huge stuffed dice as an introduction to gaming.

I've been in a couple of his campaigns -- his short-lived "The Art", a riff on the nWOD Mage (one with the cacophony of factions and conspiracies WAAAAY in the background or even non-existent) with PCs with different backgrounds and talents drawn together against a shadowy extremist plot; and of course, his DC Heroes-powered Legion of Super-Heroes campaign.

Here are the responses of this tireless GM:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
My first RPG experience was Dungeons and Dragons.  I was an elementary student in Don Bosco when some upper classmen were playing in our schoolbus.  Being me, I nagged them to let me play and they let me play an elven ranger whose story can easily be summed up this way.
"Where am I?"
"You are on a mountain.  The ground is shaking."
"I look around, what do I see?"
"You see a tree."
"I climb the tree.  What do I see?"
"You see you are on a volcano.  It erupts.  Game over."
Clearly, they had hoped I would not get into this hobby.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
The biggest draw for me about gaming was the endless possibilities the game offered.  While I love videogames as well, only table top roleplaying games have ever truly offered an unfettered experience each time.  No being forced to simply talk to the NPCs.  No being forced to do mindless quests that don't really affect the game world.  And this bottomless well of potential resonated with me as well with my desire to craft stories that touch people, a desire born from my love of film.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
While playing was always fun, running them meant being much like a film director where you can craft scenes, come up with memorable casts of characters, and emotionally touching events.  You can ask anyone who has played in my games and they'd tell you there's a certain cinematic quality that I always use in my games -- that very quality is what I always wanted to achieve in filmmaking, but due to financial (and other) constraints realized I probably wouldn't be able to do as frequently.  So running games became the closest thing to making movies for me.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Numerous books have inspired me to run games, but if I were to select a top three that influence my approach to gaming, I would have to cite Clive Barker's Imajica for always making me want to have tales that have a grand scope yet a personal focus, Christopher Golden's Strangewood for the interplay of real and fantastic and the power of the imagination, and William Gibson's Idoru for having interesting technology and environments which never overshadow the uniqueness of a human being.  These books have in many ways become key seeds in shaping how I tell my tales in gaming.

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Millennium and The Twilight Zone are two of the biggest influences to my approach to gaming.  Having dark somber moments intercepting ordinary family scenes... having the lines of real and dangerous blur too closely... these things are staple in my games thanks to these two shows having left me such an emotional impact.  Lately, Lost has become a huge influence, with its use of flash-forward, backward and sidewards.  As well as its approach in dialogue and the slow revelation of secrets.  I was never a fan of quick resolution of questions the way X-Files or Heroes did things.

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
The Flight of Dragons was a huge influence. I loved how it "explained things" at the same time while moving forward in the narrative.  So totally new to gaming people can "grasp" the system without having to learn it before playing.   Another huge inspiration to the games I run was the movie American Beauty, because it helped me realize one can have scenes of totally normal every day moments and still find them interesting and meaningful.  The last movie I would have to cite is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  That movie launched so many games for me as well as gave me ideas on how to approach combat, more so than say Matrix did.

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
This would have to go to White Wolf Gaming Studios.  Their World of Darkness line remains for me the best developed and expanded universe for people to run games in.  Their system is light on crunch and yet heavy enough for those who want their dice to be meaningful.  And their latest approach, with a much more toolkit focus to books, allows you to practically run any kind of game using their system, be it one set in the past, present or future, with humans, mutants, or Gods.

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
In terms of actual play, I would have to place my vote on Wraith: the Oblivion.  The concept, the use of the Shadow-Guides, and the approach to the powers was down-right a perfect fit to what they wanted to achieve in a game about life after death.  The game was not an easy game to play, however, with truly dark and disturbing issues tackled directly.

In terms of concept, I loved this game called Psychosis (I think) which I vaguely recall wanting to play way back in the eighties.  In that game, each game session you are given a blank character sheet and you have to work with the storyteller to figure out who you are and what you are doing where you are, since each game you are lost in someone else's body with no idea what you are supposed to do.  I can't recall if that was really how it was played, but that's what I recall and it sounded like a game I'd love to play in.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
I guess this was answered above.

Assuming that game didn't exist, however, I would have to admit I would love to play either a full fledged Cthulhu based game or a truly over the top Wuxia game.  Of course, the problems there are, I'm not really well-versed enough in H.P. Lovecraft's stuff to appreciate it, and in terms of a Wuxia game, I haven't seen a system that seems to capture how I want the game to feel.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?
The World of Darkness has an upcoming supplement called Mirrors which even pushes the toolkit nature of the new World of Darkness to its limits.  The book supposedly expands on the rules to allow even further changes to the game, with everything from different time periods to having something less horror and more fantasy or science fiction in feel.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Adrian

GM Adrian started his gaming career early -- perhaps due to the virtue of being a wee bit older than most of my fellow gamers. I've had the pleasure of playing in a number of his games -- a low-level adventure when D&D 3E was till new, and a horror adventure set in his Manila Unseen setting (did I get that right?) using the New World of Darkness rules.

Many of our gaming-oriented discussions normally deviate into gaming nostalgia, so it's with eagerness that I present his responses to my questionnaire:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
The Holmes Dungeons and Dragons boxed set; the one where only the first 3 levels were available.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
The hobby allowed me to imagine worlds of my own and challenged me to make each world better than the last. I found myself enjoying everything I experienced in life on two levels: first for its own sake and second as material for my next world-building project.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
The hobby is first and foremost a social activity and I found that it allowed me to forge bonds with my players that no other hobby could, except maybe experiencing being shipwrecked on a desert island--but that's not a hobby as far as I'm concerned; that's Gilligan's Island.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Le Mort D'Arthur -- this started me on the 'knights in shining armor' bit; The Lord of the Rings -- this started me on the world-building bit; and The Mists of Avalon -- this got me started on the twisting expectations bit.

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Star Trek (all shows) - this showed me that there was more to adventure than simply slaying the monster of the week--sometimes it is even more fun to just talk to them; The Twilight Zone (original) - this showed me that even though it may be fun to talk to the monster of the week, it is sometimes a good idea to simply slay them; Farscape - this showed me that sometimes the characters can come up with their own drama that is more interesting than meeting the monster of the week.

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: the epic scale of the movie inspires me to build my worlds on a similar scale; The Princess Bride and Stardust (taken as a series): the wit and humor of the series informs the way I run my Non Player Characters; The Matrix: the idea that reality is not what is seems appeals to me and is often a theme in the games I run.

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
Castle Falkenstein: because it combines adventure with romance and a non-intrusive lightweight system that favors story over mechanics.

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
Sorcerer's Crusade: unlike its parent book Mage the Ascension, this supplement opened the players up to wonder and exploration and explored what it meant to be awakened instead of making the life of the character one desperate escape after another.

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

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?
Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Bobby

I've played in a couple of GM Bobby's campaigns -- a GURPS/Twilight 2000 game, a Fading Suns campaign -- and enjoyed his take on military and political post-apocalyptic and space opera settings. Also, I've been following his ongoing reports on his Mutant Future campaign through his blog.

Without further ado, here's GM Bobby's response to the questionnaire:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
The Holmes' Basic D&D set. 
Editor's Exposition
GM Bobby is referring to the D&D Basic Set edited by J. Eric Holmes. This preceded the D&D Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay, with the Erol Otus cover. Both these sets came before the D&D Basic Rules Set 1 with the Elmore cover.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
Creativity. The best avenue for someone with so many ideas to express them and have others share them too. Reading all those science fiction and fantasy books helped too…
What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
Reading all of the above( see last response) made me want to share these with other like-minded people in an interactive activity wherein all of us could have fun.
What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
  • Synthetic Men of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs) - all that swashbuckling, derring-do and weird science are a must have in my games in one form or another. this was also the first science fantasy adventure i read and really liked.
  • Hammer Slammers (ok, this isn't strictly a novel but an collection of short stories of one subject by David Drake) - i always liked combat heavy games and Mr. Drake really brings the fighting men at war to life in an edgy way. They say my combats run like this when the setting is right.
  • Elric of Melnibone ( Michael Moorcock) - all that interdimensional travelling, weird monsters, weirder characters and items, a brooding hero, large scale conflict. Again, these elements must be in my preferred games.
What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Can't think very much of this... movies were more of my inspiration. But if TV inspiration has to be selected, then stuff from the 70s and 80s I guess: Logan's run - the SF theme was really good: post-apoc adventurers running into/discovering a lot of weird stuff in post nuke America;The Rat Patrol - old stuff but the idea of wild men with guns in jeeps fighting like hell on wheels always appealed to me. I can only really think of those two for now....
What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Aliens - I played a lot of Traveller and traveller-inspired stuff so my military themed games always got a lot out of the tech, command structure, characters and uniforms of the marines on the Sulaco.
Star Wars - This was the first SF space opera movie I really took seriously as it has all the elements of a good game (my choice of SFRPG is space opera) - hyperdrive, laser swords, blasters and aliens in rubber suits.
Saving Private Ryan - This set the tone for many of the combats in my game (as I said, I love to run games that are very combat heavy). I also loved the character development and conflict buildup in the movie.
What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
Classic Traveller. It is so simple yet so timeless. I see now it really isn't much about technology but about characters and space - the best of space opera.
What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
Book 4 (Mercenary) of Classic Traveller – I’ve read a lot of supplements and adventures but nothing captured my imagination then as it does now. I used to (and still do) take the tattered old little black book out of town to read on a bus (or later on a plane) and it still is great to read. It has everything great – adventure seeds and great guns and gear.
What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
The Morrow Project. Heard so much about it and I love the genre and setting but sadly, never had the chance to play it.
What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?
The projected third edition of Fading Suns (if it does come out). More old school stuff on the lines of Mutant Future and Swords and Wizardry – as well as their supplements and adventures. Future issues of Fight On!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Jay

There was a time that Jay and I used to belong to the same gaming group. While I ran games most of the time, Jay already had a lot of GMing hours under his belt, and after our gaming group fragmented, his streak of GMing continued -- and he's racked up significantly more GMing hours by now, I should think.

In addition to all that work, GM Jay somehow manages to keep his game blog updated.

Anyway, here are his responses to the questionnaire:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
Star Frontiers. It was the first RPG I officially bought from Nova Fontana, in Shoppesville.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
It was a fun outlet for my imagination when I was a kid, and it was amusing to churn out games that other people could enjoy, and feel like big damn heroes in as I grew older.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
I enjoyed telling stories, and I found the idea of coming up with scenarios fun. Also, I was a geek, and I enjoyed the idea of having a hobby that not a lot of people were into, when I was a kid. Now that I'm older, I end up evangelizing the hobby.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Kingdom Come - Technically a graphic novel rather than an actual novel, the story pretty much hammered my outlook of having consequences matter. Nothing happens without a solid, and long lasting effect.

Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay's storytelling is evocative of an exotic fictional setting. Vivid descriptions, and complex characters and conflicting motivations between characters who are both heroes, despite how they're opposed.

The Elenium - Technically, a series of novels by David Eddings, the Elenium has memorable characters and an infectious optimism that echoes throughout his writing.

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Fringe - J.J. Abram's funky pseudo-science mystery series has some of the best cliffhangers ever.

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood - This anime has some of the best writing I've seen. Humanize a hated antagonist by having him utter a single line? Yes.

24 - Again, consequences. What you do, or choose not to do will come back to haunt you.

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Ocean's Eleven - Actually the entire series. These movies are a great example of how to pull off a perfect heist, and how different specializations can be synchronized to make a great experience.

Dark Knight
- The Joker represents a great RPG villain. Even if the motivation is a little muddy, there's very little need to have more evidence to decide that he's an EVIL bastard.

Solomon Kane
- I like seeing characters evolve, and grow. Amusingly Solomon Kane actually has that in spades. Seeing the protagonist make a 180 (a justified one at that) is always entertaining and something I'd like to see in my games one day.

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

Mage: the Awakening. A game of hubris and ambition... and hope. It's interesting how players answer the question of what they'll do with unbridled power.

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

The Tome of the Mysteries, for Mage: the Awakening. Effectively the second half of the corebook, details the various metaphysics in greater detail, as well as the Ethics of Magic.

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

Changeling: the Lost. I have a copy, but the chances of actually playing in it? Nil.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?

Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition, due out this year. Being the game that I had run my first complete campaign with, L5R has a place in my library of books, even if I don't necessarily agree with the metaplot anymore.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Game Table – GM Interviews

I’m planning on having a series of interviews. Basically I e-mail GMs a list of questions about RPGs, and see what they say.

More than that, however, I hope to see what it is about the hobby that hooks GMs (and eventually players as well), and get a feel for the attraction and the thrill of gaming that keeps us coming back for more.

My GM Interview questionnaire for this round is as follows:

Game Table Interview Questions
• What was the first RPG you remember playing?
• What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
• What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
• What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
• What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
• What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
• What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
• What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
• What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
• What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?