Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Day 22: Which RPG's are the easiest for you to run?

D&D, Supers, and Star Wars - Done!

OK I can expound.

D&D: I've been running D&D for so long that it's pretty easy to just jump in and go. Some players, some characters, pick a setting and let's go. There's enough material bouncing around in my head that I don't really need any more than that. A strange combination of games I have run and games I have never run means I have all kinds of material to work with to make a game. The funny thing is that the further back you go, the easier it is for me to run as the newer editions have more rules and more numbers and more presumption of balance etc.

Supers: Once enough has soaked into your brain from comics/cartoons/movies all you really need is a system of some kind to resolve success/failure and you can just run with it. Punching people thru walls with occasional melodrama is easy enough to run and so much of the genre can be dialed up or down to taste on the fly that it's an immensely flexible type of game. Good rules will make it easier but the mechanics are not the main attraction. It's the ability to work dinosaurs, robots, ninjas, and aliens into a single session that is the attraction for a lot of us. Pick a system, sketch out a basic plot, let your players throw together some characters, and you're good.

Star Wars: Similarly, a lifetime of Star Wars movies, shows, books, comic books, and games means there's a bunch of it in my head. An RPG, regardless of system, means I get to let some of that out. Pick a system, get some characters together, and en media res - you're in a starship spiraling downward towards a planet/you're in the middle of a bar fight on the jungle world of zom-tek-zo/you're standing inside of an imperial base's computer core when the door slides open and thigns start moving!

Bonus: Star Trek! I haven't run a Trek game in forever but it's another example of soaking in it forever equaling a surplus of material in my head ready to spring forth. I talked about one approach here a few years ago. "What to do" is really not a question, and the choice of system is just a bonus!

When I see this question I immediately tend to think genre, not system. It occurs to me that maybe not everyone does. Regardless, I think focusing on the type of game and not the mechanics of the game tends to make for a better run.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Day 21: Which RPG does the most with the least words?

I'm not typically a believer that "older is better" but in the case of this category ... it's going to be a lot of old stuff I suspect. So much of the RPG scene is caught up in 300-400 page giant core books supported by 10 - 100  supplements that it's hard to believe how little entire product lines used to be! I looked around my library and checked some page counts before I started writing this and it's amazing how book sizes and book numbers have crept up.

Ignoring D&D as the one example everyone knows about, here are some others:

  • Gamma World 1st-2nd-3rd editions are all right around 64 page booklets. The later two add in an intro adventure that adds some page count. It's incredible the amount of time we spent playing in these. Years and years of fun from one 64-page book and some adventures plus a whole lot of imagination and paper.
  • Original Traveller: three 48 page books that covered a fairly detailed character generation system, task resolution, combat, ship construction and combat, and system generation. We played for years with this just set and maybe an adventure. We did pick up supplements but the core box alone was a ton of material.
  • Marvel Super Heroes: a 16 page intro book and a 48 page campaign book along with some stat cards for famous characters had us off to the races. That universal table covered everything in a short and sweet way. There were adventures of course, but most of the early supplements added official writeups for Marvel characters, not new rules. 
Looking at my shelves and thinking back most of those early games and adventures were under 200 pages total even with a full boxed set treatment. Most of the time the ideas was "here is how to play mechanically, here are some adventure ideas, and here are a few notes about a setting" and that was it! Nowadays though the books are better in a lot of ways I think you could trim a lot of them back by a third to a half and it would only improve them. 

In most cases you get a bunch of pages on character creation, but you're going to get "advanced" character creation a month or two after the book releases with even more options. This is not new, Traveller in particular pioneered the "extra book for each character type" approach in the early 80's. Why not make a conscious effort to go minimal on this if you're just going to redo it anyway?

You get a chapter on the setting in the core book, but you're going to get another big book on the setting anyway in most cases, plus you may get regional or era-type sourcebooks that go into far more detail as well. Can we separate rules and setting as a matter of routine?

My #1 example of a game that does the most with the fewest words is this:

The 1st & 2nd editions of Champions gave us a detailed system for creating and playing superheroes in 80 pages. The boxed set added a 16-page adventure that added some ideas on locations and plot, an ongoing enemy organization, and some additional villains but even counting that you had a complete superhero solution in under 100 pages. I think that's pretty remarkable. Later editions may have ballooned it up into far more than that but in the early days Champions was one efficient little game system. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Day 20: What's the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

Well this one is pretty simple - but first, some history:

In the 80's it was conventions. If you wanted to look for older RPGs you pretty much had to go to a con. As a runner up, if you had a good game store in town they might have a used game section but most of the ones I saw were pretty small.

By the 90's we had Half Price Books! Used bookstores in general had been a minor source but by the 90's the HPB's in the DFW area were paying attention and had at least a shelf or two devoted to game books. Cons were still useful but were no longer as necessary. I noticed more local game stores carrying old stuff too. It was a great time because it was a treasure hunt! You pretty much had to do the leg work and drive around town to see what each store had. I had a regular circuit of stores I hit every week or two while driving between home, work, and friends.

Funny story - I sold Rifts Japan when I purged most of my Rifts collection in the late 90's. There was an identifying stamp I had put in most of my game books in those days to help me avoid getting them mixed up with everyone else's books. Years later I was rebuilding my Rifts shelf and I stopped in to a local HPB, saw they had a copy of Rifts Japan. I opened it up - yep, it was mine! I bought it and I still have it today. 

By the early 2000's we had two developing titans - Amazon and eBay. Over the last 10-15 years these two have steadily replaced the local game stores, conventions, and even my beloved HPBs as the go-to source for old game stuff. From miniatures, to books, to doo-dads like dice and screens they are typically my first and last stop. Beyond the vast selection of what has effectively become "America's Attic" and the leveling effect of national if not international price competition these two entities make it possible to plan to acquire certain games instead of being at the mercy of the local selection. I can decide to go pick up a bunch of Runequest 2nd edition supplements and have a really good chance of doing so as quickly as I want to instead of waiting for years to come across them in a shop.

And that's my final answer: eBay is the number one stop, with Amazon a close second and generally better when it comes to in-print games.

Optional bonus answer: if you don't care about having a physical copy of everything DTRPG has a lot of old stuff in PDF form. It takes up a lot less space and you won't lose it in a fire. Some of it is available in print-on-demand format too so it might be the best of both worlds.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Day 19: Which RPG features the best writing?

I don't think most RPG's have notably outstanding writing. To me good writing for a game should inspire one to want to play it just by reading a rulebook. That can be a real challenge as you're not writing a story, you're trying to tell other people how to play through a story! Bad writing can stand out but when it comes to rulebooks it's more about organization and layout than writing style when it comes to making a good book.

I suppose the intersection of these things can elevate or sink a book:

  • The first Dungeon Master's Guide, the original AD&D DMG, has some organization problems but the writing is somehow really inspirational, at least for a lot of people. Style/art/eye of the beholder etc. notwithstanding a lot of people I see cite it as an inspiration. 
  • Shadowrun 5th edition is ripped in almost every review for it's terrible organization. Regardless of the quality of the writing the poor organization overshadows it to the point that for many it's a problem just getting through the game. 
Of the games I think of when I think about the quality of writing:
  • The old James Bond 007 RPG was pretty atmospheric at the time. I remember thinking it really sold the concept well.Flipping through it today it still stirs some interest in playing an agent who lives that high class life while traveling the world in defense of England.
  • Shadowrun in general has done a pretty good job here over the years, at least through the first three editions. One example  - integrating a comments section on each page or section long before we had common internet usage made it that much more interesting to read. 
  • MWP's Marvel Heroic is another winner here. I thought it did a really good job of integrating rules, examples, and setting into a cohesive whole.
  • Right now I think Dungeon Crawl Classics does a really good job of this. There's a ton of flavor in the words in this book and it conveys a setting and a tone when the game really has no specific setting - that's quite a feat.

One thing I notice from my choices - I think it is easier to write better when you have a setting to build on and not just a rules system. References to people and places, references to historical or future events, equipment, even jokes are easier to integrate when you have a strong setting to work with in a book. Even D&D 5th edition makes specific references to D&D lore and is a better book for it. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Day 18: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

Well this is easy enough - Dungeons and Dragons! All editions combined this is easily more than half of my lifetime playing time.

Narrowing it down to a single version of the game, it has to be AD&D, the original. Because I had more time back then - so much more time! We ran multiple characters up into the teens - and even 20th once! We played through probably every published module, every Dragon adventure we could lay hands on, numerous homebrewed settings and adventures, and a bunch of random dungeons too.

It was about a ten year run for me as I didn't get an AD&D book until 1980 and it was the main game up until 2E came out in 1989. That covered all of junior high and high school and the first half of college and I spent a ton of time with it.

Admittedly, by the mid-80's we all knew its flaws but we didn't care that much - it was D&D! In between all of the others - Champions, Gamma World, Runequest, Twilight 2000, Traveller, Marvel, Star Trek, etc. it was the game someone was always ready to run, the game everyone had characters for, and the game everyone liked and knew how to play.

Honestly, that really hasn't changed. Some version of D&D has always been our core game, our baseline, and I do not expect that to change.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 17: Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

I had to do a lot of thinking while standing in the main "library" room to answer this.

If we start counting different editions as different games then it's probably Hero 5th edition. It came out in 2002, I bought it that year, and I've never run it or played it with anyone. That's 15 years and that's a pretty long dry spell for me.

I've never run Aces and Eights and that came out in 2007 so that's ten years.

Underground is in this discussion too. It came out in 1993, I've owned a copy since around that time, and I think we made characters for it once but never had another session where we actually ran.

Hackmaster is in a similar situation: Had it since around 2001 but never ran it. We played around with making characters but never had an actual run and we were so wrapped up in 3E D&D at that time that it was never going to get serious attention.

If you don't count character creation as "playing" then those two would bump Hero 5 down to third place.

There are some other games that have been out longer that I have not played but I did not pick them up until later. I have a pretty decent collection of RPG's but unlike a lot of collectors I usually pick up stuff with the intent to play, not just store it on a shelf. Now I may have only run them once, but the vast majority of the games I own have been played at some point.

That said I own a fair number of RPG's I haven't run or played in 20+ years. I may have played them a ton in the 80's or 90's but for whatever reason I haven't touched them in the 2000's. They may have been superseded by later editions, no one else is interested in playing them, or tastes may just have changed but they still have some value to me and so they remain.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Day 16: Which RPG do you enjoy using as-is?

Well, I try to always start playing a new game by running it as-is. That's how you should start it IMO. I'm always amazed at players who come into a game's forum and start talking about changing up rules before they've run a single session! You don't know !@$#$ about how a game works until you've played it. You don't know enough about how it really works until you've run 3 or 6 or 12 sessions. I don't understand those who are in such a rush to start switching stuff up. To me there's a huge difference between these two statements:

  • "Oh that doesn't look right - we need to change it"
  • "We tried it for our first few sessions and we didn't like it so we switched to this."
Anyway, right now we're playing our first few sessions of Edge of the Empire. Since it's effectively a referendum on the whole game system for my players I am trying to stay with the rules as written. If we find a problem I'll see how other people are handling it  - the rules have been out for 4-5 years now - and talk to my players about how we want to proceed. So far though it all seems to work as intended and we are having a good time. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I don't really "adapt" games that much these days as there are a ton of them out there nowadays and I can usually find one I like that covers what I want to do. If you want to broaden the question to using a system for multiple different types of games then I will say "Savage Worlds" - it's a great fit for a lot of genres and a good-enough fit for almost all of the rest. I've run and played different genres in GURPS, Hero, and d20 and SW beats them all in my opinion if I have to pick one system to run every possible kind of game. From cowboys to pirates to knights to jedi to juicers it works and works well in real, actual play. It always seems to be the "next" game on the list so we don't play it as much as I wish we did but it's a great game system and has been for a long time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Day 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play

Dungeons and Dragons. Any version.

  • Want to take a sailing ship to the edge of the world?
  • Want to stop a zombie apocalypse?
  • Want to start one?
  • Want to ride dragons into battle against evil?

From low-level rat fighting to building a castle and running a barony to invading the Nine Hells there's a ton of options for a campaign and nearly infinite directions the players and DM could take a campaign. I know because I've done it as a player and as a DM across a bunch of versions of the game.

Runner up
Any superhero game. The universe is yours! In fact, multiple universe may be yours! You can do basic street-level crime-fighting heroes if you like, and you could scale it up to repelling an alien invasion and invading the Nine Hells here as well!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Day 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

This may be a little different than what the creators of the question intended but it's the first thing that came to mind so ...

We were playing D&D 2E. We had been playing this campaign for a while with just a few players - about 4 altogether, and we ran if at least two people were available. I was running it and it was going pretty well. One guy, one I had known for years at this point, had been increasingly "insurgent". He went against everything the other players wanted to do, he went off on his own when the party was trying to do something, and was just generally difficult in-game. I was willing to tolerate a fair amount of this in-game as people play in different ways and every character doesn't have to get along all the time.

Then he started to let it leak out outside of the game itself - talking smack about the players, insults, sneering condescension, and making implications about their work and personal lives.

So I threw him out.

I told him that was enough, right in the middle of the session. He popped off. I told him exactly what was going to happen if he didn't stop and think about what he was doing and who he was doing it too. he doubled down on his approach. This was at my apartment at the time so I told him to leave. Then I picked up his stuff,  took him by the arm, and escorted him out. He seemed surprised. It briefly interrupted the venom spewing from his mouth, but not for long. Once I shut the door though it didn't matter much as we didn't have to listen to him anymore. We went on with the game and the campaign and didn't miss him at all.

So what this experience changed for me is that I don't tolerate disruptive, hostile, angry players. We all have bad days sometimes but you don't get to take that out on everyone else who showed up to the game. If you consistently show up mainly to screw up what everyone else is doing then you need to go somewhere else.

Note that this is not really a one-time-incident policy. It has to keep happening for me to consider telling someone to leave. It's happened one or two other times in the 20+ years since that first incident.

I see posts on messageboards every week asking how to handle difficult players and some of them I totally understand. Others though ... the only thing I do not understand is why you're asking what to do instead of telling what you've already done. If I have a group of 4-6 friends gathered together to do anything and one of them starts screwing it up for everyone else, I'm going to ask them to leave. That's just a basic social thing, it's not specific to tabletop gaming. If as an adult you can't get along with other adult humans who have a shared interest for a few hours, well, it's not my job to train you.

When I'm running a game, particularly at my home, one of my responsibilities is to protect the players time - to make them feel like we actually did what we said we were going to do when we set the thing up. Allowing someone to disrupt the game beyond a certain point is a failure on my part to do that, a failure as a host. I don't like failing at something like that so I don't let it happen.

It takes a lot of effort to get a group of people together and play something consistently. Add in whatever prep time the GM spends on setting up a campaign and then on each session. It's a lot of time and work. Do not let that one person ruin it for everyone. At some point:
  • They're not acting like a player
  • They're not acting like a friend
  • They're actively damaging things for everyone else. 
That's when it's time to cut them out and get on with things with the people who are there to work with the group and have an enjoyable time.