Merging games together is something I have a real taste for. I spent way too much time working on blending The Madness Dossier with GURPS Cabal to make Broken Spokes. Another mash-up idea I am fond of is the Madness Conspiracy, dropping Conspiracy X‘s AEGIS on the frontlines of the struggle against the annunaki of History-B. Bringing Dennis Detwiller’s Gilchrist Trust in the WitchCraft universe would be cool, too.
It can’t be anything but Suppressed Transmission. We’ve talked about this Pyramid column of Ken Hite’s before. I agitated for the release of the still-uncollected bulk of the corpus. Regrettably, nothing came of that, which is a crying shame because what was published was so damn good as an idea mine of utter weirdness to build into your game of choice.
There have been spiritual successors, like Matthew Rossi’s Things That Never Were, a collection of essays that feel like they could be a Third Broadcast, right down to using the neologism “bisociate.” Hite went on to write a similar-sounding series for a Swedish magazine, and then kicked off Ken Writes About Stuff for Pelgrane Press, which was rather more mythos- and GUMSHOE-focused when I was subscribed, but it still felt like kin to Suppressed Transmission.
Pound for pound, though, Suppressed Transmission is where it’s at for finding all kinds of crazy ideas and oddities of real world history to seed into your games, whether they’re modern gonzo conspiralunacy or a traditional fantasy campaign in need of some new, previously unknown monsters and antagonists. Someone out there has to have taken up Hite on his suggestion of Justinian I as a demon, right?
I’m not sure I can answer this one. Any mechanic I like that one would call revolutionary is probably old enough that it’s been outdone in terms of radical innovation several times over by newer games. Instead, I’ll talk about a mechanic that I really like. It probably wasn’t the first, it certainly wasn’t the like, but it’s the example that I know and like.
Angel included a system for designing an organization for which the characters would work — or own; as you’ll see, the system was designed to be flexible. The GM grants an amount of points, to which the players can contribute some of their own character build points, and the players distribute points into their organization’s spheres of influence and their place within it. The two extreme examples are Angel Investigations and Wolfram & Hart. The first is a group whose players put their points into being in charge. Angel Investigations has minimal clout in Los Angeles and runs lean, without many resources to call on. But the characters are in charge, damnit: they answer to no one but each other and set the direction for the company.
Alternately, Wolfram & Hart’s players clearly dumped all their points into contacts, resources and clout. The firm exerts influence on multiple planes of existence, its facilities seem limitless and people generally quake in their boots when J.Q. Cheatem from Wolfram & Hart shows up with a sheaf of papers in hand. On the other hand, to get their law firm to that level of status, the players have put themselves at the very bottom of a very tall pyramid which is capped off by three or more demigods of uncertain though certainly worrying levels of power.
So there’s a wide spectrum to work within when designing your organization with Angel‘s mechanic. I really dug that, and regret not having had the chance to put it into play yet. Giving the players that level of control over the campaign framing device should really get them engaged with not only their character’s development, but the course that organization takes over the span of the game.
My favorite house rule would have to be the one that I don’t even think of as a house rule. When we played Carrion Crown, the GM instituted a house rule that each round, a character could drink one potion as a free action. Doing so simplified play, made potions a slightly more appealing option in the tight action economy of Pathfinder and became completely invisible. In short, it was the perfect sort of house rule.
We’ve seen what some people have done to construct their perfect gaming environment. They went for the immersive experience, emulating a space they might find within their games.
For me, the vision of my perfect gaming environment is a room lined with built-in shelves, holding my libraries: board games, role-playing books, fiction, and more. The classical sort of library you might find on Bookshelf Porn. Outside the windows, brilliantly colored leaves wave in the breeze, filtering golden autumn sunlight into the game room.
Overstuffed easy chairs crowd around a coffee table-high GeekChic marvel. Gorgeous wooden surface on top, for books, dice rolls and such, with a felt-covered play space beneath for when we might break out a map for a session or a board game.
That would be pretty spectacular. It’s purely a fantasy, but one I wouldn’t mind realizing some day.
This is another of those topics where I can hardly choose a single favorite. Not least because I feel like I don’t have enough exposure to settings in play, as opposed to having read the book and shelved it. So with the caveat that it’s one of my favorites mostly because it’s a fun read, I nominate GURPS Cabal.
The Cabal began as a mini-setting in the second edition of GURPS Horror, but it was Ken Hite’s expansion of the original material into a full supplement of its own, along with the usual GURPS rules expansion, that made reading about the Cabal so amazing. Hite took the basic framework of a mutual aid society for sorcerers, monsters, faeries, reptoids and so many others from the depths of classic and modern supernatural stories and blended it with real world history and occult traditions, with an especial focus on the Hermetic worldview.
There’s a dizzying secret history of the world, varied cast of characters to run up against and a cosmology straight out of the kabbalah. In short, it’s an intimidating setting to consider using in a game — I dabbled a couple times in different ways and didn’t feel very successful, relative to the bar of imagination and creativity that I felt the book set — but it’s a damn fine read, and always an excellent source of ideas. But then the hard work — and I maintain it’s hard work, even as other people like to throw “Well, if you can’t figure it out, you’re just not trying” with this kind of high detail, low hand-holding material — of turning it into decisions and characters that will engage the players is still left to be done.
That said, I wish there had been more follow-up material to GURPS Cabal to read, at least. The Cabal gets a mention now and again in fourth edition GURPS material, as they became a new player in the Infinite Earths landscape and figure in the scant setting material in GURPS Thaumatology, but that’s about it, unless it’s all showing up in issues of Pyramid.
 I borrowed heavily for Mage: The Suppressed Transmission, and developed the Broken Spokes framework for a campaign that didn’t get past the first session and then a convention one-shot that I still feel embarrassed about.
I feel like there are the games we call horror games, and the games that are truly horror games. People call Mage: the Ascension a horror game, because it’s a cousin of Vampire: the Masquerade and it has themes of the consequences of hubris, a la Frankenstein. And then we have the personal horror of Vampire itself, where the player’s character is the source of repugnance. Beyond that is the cosmic horror of Call of Cthulhu, in which characters discover the full dimensions of their insignificance in comparison to the true powers of the cosmos.
Which of those we find truly horrifying depends on the person. I have a friend who maintains Lovecraft’s conception of the universe is not horrifying, because as of the 21st century, we have assimilated what his characters dreaded to be the case as reality. It can’t be horrifying because it’s not unknown. My point of dissent with her argument is that regardless of what we think we know, there’s always a bigger issue, a bigger shell around what we know, that we don’t know. And the contents of that bigger shell are still unknown and still horrifying.
What that has to say about my favorite horror role-playing game is left as an exercise for the reader. If you’ve been reading Held Action for a while, you can probably figure it out.
Mutants & Masterminds, done! It’s my favorite mix of ability to customize and ease to run. It’s adaptable, too. Silver Age supers, street level crimefighters, Heroes-like modern marvels: let’s do ’em all.
One of my dream campaigns is to use the Paragons toolbox supplement to create a modern, non-goofy, Heroes-like campaign where marvels find themselves afflicted with unimaginable powers — erupting, if you will — in a world that is far more complex and bizarre than CNN would have you suspect.
Conspiracy X isn’t your typical science fiction. It combines the weird pre-millennial “is there an apocalypse coming?” zeitgeist of the 1990s with the UFO lore of the 20th century and paranoia about government overreach, packaging it all in a familiar but legally distinct wrapper of federal agents investigating weird phenomena.
The game enjoyed a brief renaissance thanks to Kickstarter, as Eden Studios pushed out a number of supplements stuck in the pipeline after publishing a second edition of the core book, but it seems to have petered out in the years since. One of the stretch goals of the final fundraising campaign was to publish a long-rumored sequel game, Extinction, advancing the timeline one hundred years to an era when the various races are locked in all-out war for their own survival. No word on that front, and Eden’s efforts seem to be going into All Flesh Must Be Eaten and a new kid-friendly game, Adventure Maximus.