#RPGaDay2015 29: Favorite RPG Website or Blog

RPG-a-day-2015Certainly the RPG website I visit the most is RPG.net. It was one of the first I stumbled across when learning about role-playing games and its reviews database at the time had a strong influence on how my library grew. I still visit it regularly — multiple times a day, in fact. For a long time, though, that custom of frequent visits has felt akin to turning on the television to make noise in the house: you get more comfort from the constant background buzz than you do any significant gain from the content there. Like any web forum, there are perennial topics that come up again and again. It’s almost reassuring to see people continue to bicker over whether role-playing games are dying and whether game publishing is an industry or a hobby.

Instead, I’ll give a shout-out to d20pfsrd.com. A dedicated team of Pathfinder fans did an amazing job of taking the game’s system reference document and to host it the Google Sites platform with a breathtaking amount of cross-referencing. It’s absurdly easy to jump from one related topic to the next because how of thoroughly game terms are hyper-linked. They use a “linkifier” script to recognize the use of a term that needs to be linked, and run it through what must now be thousands of pages.

Those thousands of pages are ridiculously up to date, too. As Paizo releases more open content, the d20pfsrd.com team industriously brings it into the site. That website is such a huge boon to sifting through the maze of options that has sprung up around playing a Pathfinder character. I can’t recommend it enough to someone trying to figure the mechanical part of a character they’d like to play.

#RPGaDAY 24: Most Complicated RPG Owned

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

A long row of GURPS books receding into the distance.GURPS. The generic universal role-playing system. How it tasks me! The core of GURPS is simple: roll 3d6, compare the sum of the dice to a relevant ability score or skill rating. Low is good, high is bad. You may, if the mood strikes you, shout — before or after determining your success or failure.

And yet, with as simple a core as that, the complexity of GURPS boggles me. There are many, many optional modifiers, sub-systems, especially complex advantages, specific skills with rules of their own and more to consider when setting parameters for a campaign or figuring out how to create the character you envision. GURPS enthusiasts will remind you all that complexity is optional. You can pick and choose whether to bring in social engineering, or range modifiers.

And that is perfectly true. The challenge is determining what to include in your particular game, and knowing when to say “enough.” For instance, when I ran GURPS Ghostbusters, I went in with the initial intention of using only the barest of bones of the rules. Characters would have their attributes, some interesting advantages, and skills. But once I began building one character with a particularly interesting hook, it spiraled out of control. “Oh, clearly they would have this complementary ability, too!” So spending points became an ongoing struggle.

And then figuring out how proton packs worked mechanically drew in more complexity. As written, they’re beam weapons, but they have a kind of kick to firing, so there’s a base penalty just to shoot the thing, and there’s a malfunction roll, and firing to blast a ghost is different from restraining it, and then you must do X, Y and Z to get it in the trap.

And that’s just for a game where there’s one piece of wonder-technology. I cringe at the thought of managing a campaign where the players have ready access to the kind of stuff you find in GURPS Ultra-Tech, or even express interest in using deeper combat options. That’s never happened to me, but the thought would give me the heebie jeebies, if I thought I’d ever find myself running the game again.

Honorable Mention

A special shout-out to HERO, which easily would have taken this plaudit if I still owned the core rule book. Somehow, for some reason, I’ve hung on a dozen plus source and settings books for a game whose core rules I don’t own and whose world books are notoriously “one with everything, so there’s something for everyone!”

#RPGaDAY 18: Favorite Game System

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

Adventure! cover art.When it comes to running role-playing games, I like a fairly low complexity. I’ve got enough going on talking to everyone at the table in turn that addressing as many different questions and decision points that something as complex as Pathfinder raises is way more than I want to take on.

The Storyteller system’s always been wonderfully easy to run. There are attributes and skills, you can mix and match those to address whatever a character is trying to achieve, and then you roll some dice and check for how many made the target number.

Adventure!, and its cousins in the Aeon Continuum, Aberrant and Trinity, uses a variant on the Storyteller rules. There’s a constant target number of 7 now, and additional difficulty is represented by requiring more than one success, or gaining more successes than whomever the character is working against in a contested task.

So it’s really easy to adjudicate Adventure! and it’s crammed with flavorful pulp action abilities and is one of my first encounters with a meta resource for players to ameliorate dice results, Inspiration and Dramatic Editing. Player characters have a small pool of points to temporarily boost their abilities, and nudge the narrative. Depending on the GM, “Of course there are enough parachutes in this crashing plane for all of us” might just be the way things go even without Inspiration, but digging yourself out of a narrative dead end on your own abilities is almost always preferable to the GM handwaving it at the last minute because the players didn’t catch on to what they originally envisioned.

The Pathfinder System Reference Document

With all the Pathfinder action I’ve been up to lately, I would be remiss in acknowledging what’s made it all possible. Sure, I’ve owned the core Pathfinder rulebook for a couple years now and that’s helpful at the table for referencing basic rules — did you know a rolling a 1 on a saving throw is an automatic failure? I didn’t — but between core, base and alternate classes and scads of archetype variants for each of those, the options for a game are dizzying and not easy to track.

Fortunately, Pathfinder being an open game and all, there is not one, but two online resources comprising all that open content: the reference document maintained by Paizo itself and Pathfinder SRD, an independent web site. These two sites have been tremendous help in building Alexandros Callimachi and Morley Bishop. I don’t really know what I’d be playing without having the opportunity to idly browse pages in my own time, rather than scanning someone else’s book at a character generation session.

At this point, with all the use I’ve gotten out of their open content, I really ought to flip Paizo some more business. The Advanced Player’s Guide? What supplement would you recommend for a Pathfinder player?

The Next Step for Hermetic Realm Magic

I just had a terribly awesome idea: bring the Hermetic Realm system I assembled last year over from GURPS to Unisystem.

It is terrible because I spent too much time on that project last year. Redoing it for another, marginally different system seems like a poor use of time.

It is awesome because that marginally different system has much easier character creation. New pregenerated characters would be a snap and importing the existing set from GURPS would be even snappier. Also, I generally find Unisystem a hell of lot easier to teach on the fly.

But would it make the magic system any simpler to use? That’s the key point that finally came to me in the last month or so. A free-form magic system based on the Cabal’s Hermetic cosmology has to be really stripped down to work in a four hour convention time slot with a table of total newcomers.

So I find myself debating whether I should stick with GURPS and do the stripdown there, or move on to the relatively fresher ground of Unisystem, import the basics and actually make sure it’s simple this time.

I have to do something because I want to run another Cabal game for Carnage. Would my time be better spent making a more robust, flavorful world and scenario? I think it would. But I continue to think longingly about the simplicity of Unisystem when I ought to be focusing on content.

[Eye of the Qlippothim] Mid-August Progress Update

The Sigillum DEI, from John Dee's Mysteriorum Liber Secundus.

I drove myself to work on Eye of Qlippothim this weekend, mainly sitting down at the computer to continue pulling together the various bits of magic systems from all over GURPS Thaumatology to create a flexible, open-ended alternative to the standard GURPS spell system.

Picking Up the Threads

It’d been a while since I worked with the rules document, so I found myself scratching my head in a few places. “Why did I do that? Is it supposed to be a skill modifier, rather than margin of success?”

Originally the plan was to use margin of success as the determining factor for all of a spell’s parameters: how long it lasts, the area it covers, how far it goes, all that. However, I also want to use the familiarity table for range. Instead of worrying about physical distance, a wizard has to be symbolically close to their intended subject: know them intimately or have a link to them, like a treasured lucky charm or sample of blood. If this system is intended to encourage players to accumulate lots of sympathetic modifiers, which it is, then it seems wise to prompt that upfront. Damage and duration can run off margin of success, because they should be unpredictable. But players should be able to judge with more accuracy whether their spell will hit its target, so I think it’s sensible that range work as a skill modifier, so they can figure right from the get-go what kind of bonuses they need to collect to offset penalties.

Organizing My Thoughts Through Rule Aids

In addition to a document collecting and organizing the various rules bits for this system — for which I still haven’t settled on a name; Decanic Realm magic? Hermetic Realm magic? Hermetic Astrology magic? — I’ve been working on GM screen inserts[1] and a “quick and dirty guide to casting magic” sheet for players. One could argue I am putting the cart before the horse, creating accessories before getting the rules completely sorted out, but I’m finding it helpful.

Not only do I vary the work, so I’m not constantly focusing on making all the disparate rules align, which is my least favorite part of the project, but creating the player aid helps me get the process organized in my head. I realize there are missing steps, or that it makes more sense for figuring familiarity range to go before rolling the dice, and so on.

Ever Onward

Until the rules and players collide in a playtest, I don’t think I can make much more progress on them. That won’t happen until Fall-loha at the earliest. So now I will turn back to character creation — I have a healthy list of concepts brainstormed over the weekend and I have GURPS Cabal to plunder for its own concept list — and developing the plot and non-player characters; the latter’s always a rough spot for me. I’m trying hard this time, I promise!

[1] Incidentally, I decided to do this screen in landscape orientation. Whether I buy the premade screen by Hammerdog Games or build my own out of foamcore, I think I will prefer the lower height, which allows my voice to carry and hides less of the table from view. On the downside, I’ll have to create my own front-side inserts, as there aren’t any genre-suitable landscape screens to repurpose, but that’s not a big deal. I already have some ideas in that direction.

Fudge RPG as a TiddlyWiki

The FUDGE SRD is available for use as TiddlyWiki. That’s a clever use of the format.

More games with SRDs ought to get this treatment. I know d20 and Pathfinder have. I embarked on a similar project for Opening the Dark, but got cold feet about brazenly reposting someone’s work when they took it down, OGL or no OGL.

Also, TiddlyWiki as a wiki farm? That’s damn handy, as one of the “features” of TiddlyWiki is it only works locally.

Castlevania: The Something of Something

Barghest of RPG.net posted some typed-up notes for a Castlevania supplement to Adventure! I’m always delighted to see more material for my favorite pulp action system.

It also gives some insight into the Castlevania mythos, which has always interested me, but I’ve never been willing to commit the time to digging it out of the games myself. The many Belmont family bloodlines display how farspread and varied the members of the monster-hunting tradition are.

In adapting the material to the system, Barghest makes two interesting choices. The Adventure! character types are renamed to suit the premodern era of Castlevania. That’s interesting in that most people claim to disregard the divisions of stalwart, mesmerist and daredevil.

Secondly, Barghest brings a video game mechanic, sub-weapons, over to Adventure!, right down to the rigors of using them: most are destroyed upon use and using them expends internal resources, Willpower in this case.

I am curious to see if Barghest explains the rationale for hewing so closely to the rules of the video game in that respect.

Retooling Mage: The Ascension

Something about role-playing inspires a do-it-yourself attitude in many hobbyists. If they don’t like something, they’ll often modify to it their needs, or roll their own. So it’s no surprise that Mage: The Ascension, a game about independent individuals all proclaiming they understand the true secrets of the universe — and perhaps later learning that it’s all an illusion of sorts — should accumulate more than a few projects to do it right, better or to taste, depending on the author. Sometimes I think it’s a right of passage, whereat the burgeoning role-player decides that in the end it’s all made up and hell, they should do it the way they prefer.[1]

At any rate, yet another discussion on RPG.net of where Mage: The Ascension went wrong — or right, depending on one’s perspective — or whose fault or genius it was got me thinking about the Mage conversions that proliferated over the years. I mean, this is a game whose last supplement was published in 2004 and people are still not only casting blame and gnashing teeth, but trying to do it their way. So here’s a quick rundown of the Mage conversions I’ve run across on the web:

  • Mage! was a conversion document by an RPG.net poster by the name of Redfox Whiteruff for running a Mage game using the Aeon variant of the Storyteller system, particularly the version in Adventure! The PDF doesn’t seem to be in circulation on the web, or I’d link to it.
  • Unisystem Mage was my own modest attempt at a Mage conversion. I’ve yet to playtest the thing, so all I can say is it exists and is freely downloadable.
  • World of Darkness HERO, by Robert Harrison, encompasses much of the original World of Darkness as it stood in the second edition era, written for the HERO role-playing system.
  • Malcolm Sheppard released notes almost immediately upon publication of Mage: The Awakening in 2005 to use the new ruleset to run traditional Ascension games. They’re quick and dirty, but really that’s all one needs.
  • Mage: The Dirty Version, also by Malcolm Sheppard, is a more drastic retooling of the core premises of Mage, altering content to fit the new view.
  • Ascension Nova, on the other hand, is a currently on-going effort to perform a more robust marriage of the Storytelling system and the Mage: The Ascension setting material.
  • GURPS Mage: The Ascension and GURPS Thaumatology get honorable mentions; the former for being an official conversion of then-contemporary Mage to GURPS third edition and the latter for providing a ready made structure to rebuild the Sphere magic system in the fourth edition.

05/28/2010 9:38 AM: Shame on me for failing to include Malcolm Sheppard’s “dirty Mage” reinvention.

[1] Which is not to say “it” is necessarily inconsistent or arbitrary; just arranged to suit one’s own preferences.

Planning for Carnage the 13th

The cast of Dr. Nik's Celestial Decision 2006 at Carnage. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sponng/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s over nine months away, but playing at TotalCon — and knowing my long-ass development cycle — fired me up to start thinking about role-playing adventures for Carnage the 13th. Writing two separate adventures tend to be feasible for me — although as I’ve noted in the past, one tends to get a lot more time and attention paid to it than the other. I can toss an Arkham Horror session in there and call it a good weekend.

Yes, We Now Know Whom to Call

This year, I have a different kind of quandary over what to run. I know I want to do another Ghostbusters adventure, using the same group of characters, so that reduces time spent there. With all the plot seeds I’ve run across in the last year, I have plenty of resources to draw on for that one, too. I had a particular McGuffin in mind, but now I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a good fit for another setting, one which I haven’t had the opportunity to run before, Northern Crown.

I’m tempted to switch over to Cinematic Unisystem, as well. I’m coming to think that at the complexity level I actually run GURPS — i.e., the lightest form of GURPS Lite possible — it could give some people the wrong impression. Besides, Cinematic Unisystem has Drama Points, which I like a lot. Decisions, decisions. It would mean rebuilding characters, but that’s less of a chore in Unisystem.

But Then What?

But I’m not sure what else to run. I have this notion of using one of the old school mega-dungeons floating around the internet, like Greyhawk Grognard‘s Castle of the Mad Arch-Mage in either a free fantasy retro-clone or Pathfinder, just ’cause I have that book. But that’s never really been my oeuvre. I don’t know if I’d do it justice or be sufficiently versed in a fantasy-based system by then — though I certainly could do it in Unisystem or even GURPS.

Given that Carnage has a horror theme, I could resurrect Band on the Run, which I ran a few years ago. Monsters hide in plain sight as members of a touring rock band. The game went wildly off the rails — as they do — for which I felt it suffered, but most of the people who played expressed their enjoyment, so I try to think of it as one of those “gone so gonzo, it’s fun no matter what” games.

I could take another stab at Unknown Armies, brave the intimidating depths of GURPS Cabal, try The Day After Ragnarok or hell, run my beloved Mage: The Ascension. I need to narrow these possibilities down, find what fires my enthusiasm. That’s what energized me last year and I spent so many enjoyable hours bashing out characters and plot seeds for Lurker in the Limelight and Highway to Niflheim.

At some point I will feel comfortable recycling previously written adventures — namely BPRD: The Celestial Legion — but for now, I want to keep building my stable of material.

Suggestions, requests or pleas, Carnage-goers?