Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rolemaster Coupon Reminder

Just a quick Sunday reminder--if you haven't check out our special coupon deal with Iron Crown for their Rolemaster Classic line, don't forget to do so!

All you need to do is redeem coupon code 300e81aa13 for any Rolemaster Classic order from their online store, and receive 15% off your order. Offer applies to any softcover or pdf books. If you've been wanting to look at the entry-level Rolemaster Express or the Classic line, now's your chance!

We're always looking for more special discounts for readers, so if you'd like some good publicity and want to volunteer your game or product, drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Discussion: We Love, Systems We Don’t

Another Friday dawns, where the blogosphere yawns sleepily in preparation for hibernating through the upcoming weekend. But here at RPG Blog 2, we’re keeping things going with a little Friday Discussion. Nothing too serious, nothing too intense, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

This Friday’s discussion topic is Settings We Love, Systems We Don’t. What setting & system RPG pairings don’t work for you? Which settings do you want to use, but only if you can divorce them from the intended system?

I’ll look forward to your answers, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Watch Your Tone, Young Man

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since the comments in yesterday’s post is how much the tone of writing in a product affects our feelings towards it. A game can have wonderful, intuitive mechanics, but if the writing comes across as holier-than-thou, haughty, dreary, or any one of countless other descriptors, it can leave a potential player/GM cold.

The Advanced D&D GM’s Guide had its critics who didn’t care for its over-the-top, periodically lecturing tone. There’s some folks who can’t imagine anything else.

Palladium’s books are written in the tone of people who are genuinely excited about what they’re presenting. “Look at this! I can’t hardly breathe this is so freakin’ cool!” I love crazy enthusiasm in RPGs—it gets me ready to go. If an author isn’t excited or enthused about their work, why should I be? To others, it comes off as way, way too much.

Some games assume a lofty, pretentious tone, such as The Window. This rarely seems to go over well.

Hackmaster had (and still has) fans divided over wanting a serio-comic tone vs. a more straightforward one.

Some games try too hard to be edgy or to shock. The more extreme and edgy the writing tries to be, the more it reminds me of this. Are you listening, authors of unbecoming White Wolf fiction?

There are those who can’t stand Savage World’s Smilin’ Jack logo, considering its tone a little too faux-badass, faux tough-guy.

Point being, it doesn’t take much in a hobby full of gaming options to turn someone off of a product. And tone seems to be a big way of doing that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Interview With BTRC's Greg Porter

Today I'm pleased to interview the founder of Blacksburg Tactical Research Center, or BTRC. Greg Porter is author and publisher of numerous RPG and wargame titles, including EABA, CORPS, and Macho Women With Guns. Greg agreed to a Q&A session with RPG Blog 2, and here's how it went down:

How did you first get into gaming, and how did that lead to your current game publisher endeavors?

Grew up in a small town where I had only heard of such things as rpgs. First thing I did at college was to investigate and join the student organization for rpg'ers. Constant exposure to crappy rpg rules led me to think "I can do better than that!". And with those words I was damned...

How do you handle bad or mediocre reviews? It has to be hard to hear criticisms about products on which you've put in hard work.

I get so few of them that it is not much of a problem. But, it happens. The only thing I ask from a review is that it be accurate and have enough information to let a potential buyer make an informed decision. If what I wrote turns out to be a dud, then that's the way the cookies crumble.

EABA (End All, Be All) is your generic, universal-style RPG system. Can you give us a "quick hits" version on why potential customers will want this product over the numerous other generic/universal systems on the market?

Intuitive instead of “look it up“. One modifier table to handle 90% of real-world interactions (combat, movement, etc). At its core, realistic combat and damage effects, but with heroic options as needed. Lots of unique gameworlds that stray far from the beaten path.

What are the inherent challenges in designing a generic or universal RPG system? You worked on EABA for over two years, correct? What were the toughest parts of the design process?

Deciding when to stop tinkering with it. And the paranormal power system. There is always something that ends up taking far more time than it should in the design process.

It seems that most EABA settings expand from a "what if?" series of questions, followed by a logical expansion of the basic premise. What do you think are the benefits of this approach?

Internal consistency. I try to look at all the logical consequences of the game's premise. Society, technology, economy, diplomacy, the works. For instance, what are the side effects of magic? Do mages end up ruling everything? How does it affect warfare? What are public attitudes? Is it a genetically passed trait? What does it do regarding the development or hindering of certain technologies? All of these are dependent on the power of magic, the frequency of people with the talent and the training required to be a mage. You have to do the same calculations for anything radically different. Starships, time travel, nanotech, whatever. You can't just say "I'm going to add this because it's cool", you need to figure out what happens after you turn it loose.

A unique setting will have all kinds of side effects that you don't see until you start digging into how the pieces interact, and most of the time these side effects have all kinds of adventure-generating potential.

CORPS was BTRC's first shot at a universal, generic-type system. What lessons did you take from CORPS when designing EABA?

CORPS went too far on the simple side, I think. I kept the notion of six attributes, skill specializations and using some fraction of an attribute as the floor for doing things you have no skill at (in CORPS that would be Aptitude). I went for more of a "look and feel" approach with EABA, working with game table dynamics. You know, everyone watching as you roll a big handful of dice? That sort of thing. CORPS, with its lone d10 system, was very good, but a little too sterile in that respect.

As a small-press publisher, what are your primary methods of pushing knowledge of your products? Do you see BTRC "hotspots" with higher concentrations of BTRC product players from having fans in a FLGS? Are there geographical areas where knowledge of products like EABA seems much higher?

I used to do the whole three-tier system, me, distributors, stores. Now I just publish online, and people can download the pdfs. If they really want hardcopy, I have that option through a couple different print-on-demand outlets. My “hotspots" are mostly online. I do not know of any concentrated geographical distribution.

You're also into the wargaming side of things, with several product offerings along those lines. How much does your wargaming and roleplaying business overlap? Do you a large crossover between the two?

Since it is all my design work, it's all one business. There is no real product overlap, and as far as I can tell, no real audience overlap. People who buy EABA don't necessarily run out and buy a board or card game I did, or vice versa. There are a number of people out there who will buy anything with my name on it, just because they know it will be a good read, even if they never use it. I'd rather people used it, but it's nice having a good reputation.

Do you think there's a place right now for small press publishers in the traditional three-tier system?

I think the entrance threshold is higher. For something brand new, fairly high indeed. However, you'll notice that some well-known properties from former major players have been brought back by new companies (BattleTech rpg, Shadowrun, Earthdawn, etc.) and the name-brand recognition helps them get into the distribution chain a lot better than "You've never heard of me but I've got a new RPG, wanna buy a few cases of it?". The down market means everyone is being conservative, and that is not good for someone on a small budget trying to get retail shelf space and major distribution.

On the other hand, the ease of publishing online means that anyone can publish in that way. It used to be that you had to go three-tier to have any audience at all, which limited the number of new entries and meant you had to be pretty dedicated. Nowadays, anyone can go the online route. This is good, because it lets good designs with no money behind them see the light of day. And this is bad, because there is a cornucopia of crap you have to wade through to get to the good stuff.

How do you approach playtesting a new product?

In a fairly standard way. Find an audience interested in it, and turn it loose. I'll hit boards on other sites, or recruit from within the EABA community. Since the EABA rules are pretty solid, I really only need to test out the gameworld, which is fairly system-independent. If it is a fun gameworld, the system is irrelevant.

Some of the playtesters are merely blindtesters, who simply look over the rules from an intellectual standpoint and find errors in consistency and side effects of the background I have not considered. The trick is to find playtesters who fully understand they are not getting a polished product, and can live with the updates and revisions.

Fires of Heaven, an upcoming EABA supplement, appears to be huge. Can you tell us a little bit about this product and what to expect?

First, Fires of Heaven is not by me. The primary author is Patrick Sweeney, who gets the credit for most of the book. It is huge. Lots and lots of background material for a space opera campaign.

I was originally tapped by Patrick to do a space combat add-on for a Hero System supplement he was doing. That supplement was Fires of Heaven. It fell through with Hero, and somehow it ended up in my lap. After converting the whole mess over to EABA stats, there you go. My contribution is, as before, the spaceship design and combat chapter. And all the gruntwork on layout, etc.



What else is coming up for BTRC?

Gobs. More gobs. More than I can keep track of. I'm working on a strategic level zombie game for Lock N' Load. I'm working on a steampunk EABA supplement, superhero EABA supplement, a wierd sort of alien abduction EABA supplement and early notes on EABA version 2.0. I'm also working on a card game called Alien Zombie Tentacle Apocalypse (you don't have to outrun the tentacles, you just have to outrun the other players...), a tile-based dungeon crawl, and something involving school buses trapped on railway crossings. And half a dozen others in various stages of development.

Lastly, because I will be considered remiss if I don't ask it, will we ever see anything else for Macho Women With Guns? How the heck did you come up with that title?

On the first question: I'm going to buy an iPad and see what potential there is for a big 'ol interactive pdf full of easter eggs. So...someday. On the second, MWwG was from the days of Black Widow Company (look, Madonna as a mech pilot!) and numerous other game supplements whose main claim to fame was lurid art.

Sooo...I just eliminated all that time-consuming crap about design and background, took the basic selling premise of these products (scantily clad women, guns) and turned that into the entire product. Ergo, Macho Women with Guns.

In looking up the art for Black Widow Company, I found it ironic that the 2009 "Time of War" Battletech RPG has a cover with a man in sensible fighting gear, and two women. One, front and center, in tight shorts with exposed midriff, and the other in skin-tight something or other. The more things change, the more they stay the same...


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flying Mice News!

Busy today with many projects, but not so busy as to miss telling you two great bits of news from one of my favorite RPG publishers, Flying Mice LLC:

-In Harm's Way: Starcluster is finally out! Military space and sci-fi gaming ahoy!

-In preparation for the eventual release of Starcluster 3e, Starcluster 2e is now being offered for free! Free RPG ahoy!

We should have some additional Flying Mice coverage shortly, but for now, make sure you go and check out these two products!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Revising Palladium's System

I've been giving a lot of thought to Palladium's Megaversal System as of late. Now, I grew up on that system through Palladium Fantasy and Rifts, so it doesn't really bug me as much. However, I can see where it would bother the snot out of some people.

I don't have anything concrete, but here are a few things I would address, in my idea of Palladium.

Attributes That Mean Something: Right now, there is an entire range of stat numbers under Palladium that give no bonus or penalty. I'd like to see something more akin to the bonuses in d20, or in using stats in more of a roll-under sense. Let's make stats count. Heck, tie them as a bonus to certain skills, maybe.

Weapon Damage: OK, the whole MDC/SDC thing, I'm ready to junk it. Go for SDC only. Make any weapon that has more than 1 dice of damagege and is more than a 1d4 have a "Wild dice", which open-ends whenever the highest possible result is rolled (6 for a d6, 8 for a d8, and so on). This would help give a sense of hope against those opponents who take crazy amounts of damage.

Point-Buy, Open-Ended, Roll-Over Skills: I've always thought roll-under percentiles for skills was slightly unintuitive. I would take a page from Rolemaster: Roll a d100, add your skill rating. A 96-00 roll open-ends, and you get to roll again until you don't open end. You have to roll over a Target Number, depending on the difficulty of what you're trying. A 1-4 is a fumble. This ensures characters are not as limited in skill knowledge, and makes modifying a simple add-on of skill difficulty.

For skills themselves, no more class-related and secondary skills. Different classes will have different skill categories ranked as either Class, Normal, or Restricted. Class skills only cost 1 point to bump the skill up 5 percentage points (each investment is called a rank). Normal skills cost 2 points per 5%, and Restricted 3. Once you have 50% in a skill, the skill percentage increase per investment drops from 50% to 3%.

Scrap XP: It's a pain in the ass to track. As you may have guessed from above, Experience Points would be out of the mix here. Use simple Development Points, and award between 5-10 at the end of every session or (depending on your game). These may be saved or used as needed, and can be awarded for good roleplaying, participation, or making the GM laugh. Development Points can be used for skill or stat increases (stat increases being exceedingly expensive).

Simplify Combat: "I have 6 attacks or actions, he has 3. When do I take mine? OK, I dodged. Did I lose an attack?" OK, let's clear this up. Make Attack, Parry, and Dodge a single action in a single round. If you Dodge, that's it, unless you have another attack. Rounds are 10 seconds; players with any Hand-to-Hand Skill get 2 Attacks or Actions to start. Players get another action for every 10 points of dexterity above 10. (So 20 gets one more, 30 gets 2 more, and so on...). A weapon proficiency starts you a +1 to hit with that Weapon; not having it puts you at -4 to hit. Armor is an all-or-nothing proposition; you need to put 5 ranks in it to show comfort; otherwise, you're at a -4 to hit while wearing.

For every 50 or 100% put into Hand-to-Hand Combat Skill, you can choose either +1 action per 10 seconds, or +1 to strike in hand-to-hand combat. For every 50 or 100% put into a weapon, you gain another +1 to strike with that weapon. If you want to do something cool with a weapon or in combat, you also roll a skill check with your Hand-to-Hand or respective Weapon Skill. For example, carving a "Z" into the chest of your cyborg opponent with your Vibro-Blade might be beating a TN of 150 on your Vibro-Blade skill. Rolling to "sweep the leg" on an opponent would likely be a check vs. your Hand-to-Hand Combat skill (with a +25% bonus for quoting The Karate Kid during said attack), or, more likely, a contested check of both parties' Hand-to-Hand Combat skills.

Magic/Psionics: I will admit, I have no idea what to do with this one. Here's a few random thoughts: I'm going to say whatever the level of the spell, that's how many ranks you need to cast. It would also mean that you roll your Spellcraft skill for the type of spell (Utility, Fire, Attack, Cold, Defense, etc.). That would mean categorizing all the spell lists. Same deal with Psionics. Both Psionics and Spells would use Power Points. Goodbye, PPE/ISP.


Of course, I realize all these may appeal to just my style of gaming, and nothing here is written in stone. It's also hard to reinvent the wheel, but still try to have a system somewhat compatible with an old one. But it's fun to think aloud, sometimes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Axis and Allies Video (And WWII Campaigns)

This was one of my favorite games back in the day, circa 1998. Watching it, I want to run a WWII Commando/Special Forces campaign:



Of course, if you're going to run a World War II game, there's a lot to consider. It's not a time that was particularly enjoyable for the people who lived through it, and as much as I love history, I don't know that I can remove myself enough from the realities of it all to run a game in it. That might be a little heavy for me. Pulping it into something like "Inglourious Basterds" doesn't feel quite right, either.

Interviewing Small Press

We have a whole host of great small-press RPG publisher interviews coming up here at RPG Blog 2. As always, I'm a big fan of the wonderful, eclectic, unique RPGs that come out of the small press of our hobby, and I'm always happy to shine my (admittedly dim) spotlight on their awesome efforts. If you know of a small-press publisher you'd like to see interviewed here, drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.

I think you're going to really enjoy the interviews we are lining up!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Play Recap: Session 8

Well, no matter how good you think you are as a Game Master, you're going to run into some inter-party conflict. In a way, I hate inter-party conflict, because it can lead to bruised feelings or game dissolution. I'm pleased to say that didn't happen

When we last left the party, they were being told in no uncertain terms they would revisit via teleporting the Pools of Portation at dawn and clean up the damage they did. The problem? There were at the least 16 Darrakian (read: evil Necromantic Overlord lackeys) troops sitting around waiting for them, along with one dude with the capacity to tear them up with fireballs.

The players managed to garner a pretty good list of supplies, including the equivalent of some smoke bombs and powerful healing herbs, and went back at it, taking along a single, profane guardsman who seemed to have a healthy dislike of everyone (they picked him over the hypochondriac or overweight dude with the polearm).

The Pools of Portation were set up in the middle of a grove, so that jumping into a pool ended up with the player in another pool in the grove. The players used this teleportation effect wonderfully, using their smokescreens, good movement, some key Sonic Bursts, and the druid's Vines O' Entanglement to kneecap the baddies pretty early on. This fight definitely went better than last time.

At the end of the fight, Antigus the Druid prevailed upon one of the remaining fighters to surrender. He did, throwing his sword down in disgust. Immediately after this, our mercurial Jack-of-All-Trades Leyton threw Alchemist's Fire on the now-prisoner.

Cue the Star Trek Fight Music.

Antigus and the rest of the party did not care for this at all, and in some amazing rolls, managed to overbear and grapple Leyton, who was the strongest member of the group. Antigus got thrown off, then our mage Vas ran in for a tackle. Nalgin the Cleric pointed a wand at him, and Friar Charles tried desperately to save the life of the prisoner.

Nalgin roped his feet, but Leyton still fought. Finally, Vas used his d30 supercharge for a kick to the head (subdual). Leyton finally went limp.

How to deal with this? The party was torn on the best course of action. On one hand, Leyton had been a help in the past, and not having him weakened them. On the other hand, the party had a Friar and Cleric. Could they ignore the sort of act he had committed?

Well, it turns out one of the Pools did not lead to another pool in the grove. They weren't sure where it went, but it wasn't anywhere nearby, apparently. The guardsman had decided he had had enough and was walking back to Morsten, some 60 miles away, to spend his newfound loot. The party was considered exploring the pool, a decision accelerated when then the party members began to jump into the pool and disppear.

Finally, the decision was made to cut the unconscious Leyton free, leave him his items, but leave him nonetheless, basically separating him from the party.

After this, I discussed what had happened with Leyton's player. Obviously, he could wake up and try to find them (for good or ill), or go on his own way for a number of reasons. I think what the player decided on will be an interesting course. I don't feel comfortable revealing all of what went down, since we have other players reading this, but they'll find out when we play again in two weeks. Players sometimes make decisions that turn out to be unpalatable to the rest of the group. The secret isn't to try to shoehorn a resolution, I think; it's to face facts, make sure everyone leaves it on the gaming table, and press on with the game.

All in all, a challenging session, but one we got through. I think the campaign is in a good spot next week, where things should get very interesting. Of course, player action drives everything, so we'll see.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Now Available: Season 2 Episode 4 of RPG Circus!

No Friday discussion as such today, but we do have a brand new episode of RPG Circus for your listening entertainment. In Season 2 Episode 4, we tackle the following topics:


-An Interview With Joe Wetzel of Hexographer


-Do We Need Skills?


-Trying Out The Mouse Guard RPG


Give it a listen and enjoy! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My 5 Favorite Rifts Covers Of All Time

OK, so everyone knows I love Rifts. I don’t always jive with the Megaversal System or some of the book decisions, but I’ve been running it long enough that I manage. Today’s post is for reader Evan (and all you Megaversal Fanatics!), who wanted more Palladium coverage from this site. Evan, I do what I can, pal, but there are a lot of games to cover.

For being one of the most kitchen-sink, metal games of all time, Rifts has had a varied cover art history. Some pieces seem downright mundane; some are so brimming with energy that your face might explode if you look at it too long.

Without further ado, I’m counting down my Top 5 Rifts covers of all time.

5) Rifts Worldbook 20: Canada



The Canada book usually gets mixed reviews overall, but I’ve always liked this picture. It’s good to know that 3 centuries after an apocalypse has destroyed the world as we know it, the Mounties have mystically fused with a GI Joe Action Set to defend the Great White North. Really, though, I like it because you can tell Stuff. Is. Going. Down.

4) Rifts Worldbook 17: Warlords of Russia



My apologies to the millions of people worldwide that suffered under repressive Communists regimes, but damn, this cover makes Communism look cool. The book itself covers more than just the Soviets, but the cover definitely brings to mind marching in lockstep to just beat the living hell out of the Capitalist Lackey Oppressors of Mother Russia. Fun Fact: This image gives Tangency at RPGnet shivers, as they cry bitterly over the ending of Rocky IV yet again.

3) Rifts Worldbook 29: Madhaven



Mark Evans captured so much about what I love in Rifts here. There’s the technological aspect, but we’re reminded that it’s humanity has to deal with this giant mess. Plus, they’re basically digging for loot in the middle of what used to be Manhattan (or thereabouts). How awesome is that? Maybe they’ll find a preserved enclave of hipster remains—a skinny jeans-wearing, ironic t-shirt version of Pompeii, if you will. And you just know there’s some creepy stuff that’s going to jump out at dusk from those buildings.

2) Siege on Tolkeen 3: Sorcerer’s Revenge



This series wasn’t so hot, but to me, this picture is what the Coalition States are all about (aside from, you know, the mass eradications and hate propaganda). There is a giant, angry dragon headed towards the Coalition guy in the Power Armor suit. Does he look like he’s running? Please. This is Rifts. He’s going to wait until the last minute, then give that dragon about 4 trillion rounds from his rail gun right in his ugly face. For Humanity.

Man, I need to run this game again.

1) Rifts Dimension Book 10: Hades



I have included this on the site before as being the Image Most Worthy Of Being A Late-80s Metal Album Cover. The distinction still stands. I can’t really add much to this image, except for the fact that if you don’t want to ride a zombie dragon-dog hybrid through Hell at some point, you really shouldn’t be playing Rifts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First Encounters

If you were an adventurer, crusader, fighter, mercenary, whatever colorful terms gets your character out and exploring in a fantasy RPG, new enemies would present a challenge. You’ve never seen a bullywug or beholder before (unless it’s in your background that you have), and you’re probably not going to be sure about how it fights, what powers it has, etc.

Now, to a certain extent, forbidding metagaming in these situations is impossible. Players may very well know trolls have an adverse reaction to fire, and they may have read up on what to expect from a bullette. What should be an exciting experience against a new foe instead turns into a two-round kill, as the poor creature suffers Death By Metagaming.

Is there a good mechanical representation to represent the first fight against a new type of enemy? Certainly the easiest solution might be to assign a -1 or -2 to hit the first time a player fights orcs, dragons, flumphs, etc. That penalty drops off next time you fight them. Eventually, you could even mark an enemy you fight the most as favored, with bonuses not unlike that of the Ranger’s ability in D&D 3.5.

I know I’ve seen some folks do something like this around the blogosphere, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where.

Of course, Game Masters should not be afraid to “tweak” stats and add & subtract abilities to make new encounters more uncertain and intense. Players should not have a tactical advantage because they had access to your Monster Manual.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RPGs That Just Click

In my continuing search for a new generic RPG system, I can sit here all day and write about the importance of clean layout, simple rules presentation, and proper power scaling. Yet that overlooks one of the most important, and least understood reasons for choosing or selecting a new RPG—the Click Factor.

Now, there are a lot of RPG products out there I am ambivalent towards. Most of them don’t do anything for me, even as I recognize some of their merits (i.e., GURPS, JAGS, D&D 4e, etc.). Whatever the reason, I just don’t get into those systems. But there are other products that I just “get”, right off the bat. They appeal to me, I get the system, and I feel like I have the game figured out. I call this the Click Factor, because everything just “clicks” into place all of the sudden regarding the game.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this. Rolemaster and Risus both clicked for me immediately. So did In Harm’s Way, d6, and Two-Fisted Tales. I understood what the game was going for, and that made the rules seem to be following a logical progression. It’s almost as if the writer and I were on the same wavelength at that point. I suppose it’s a mix of layout, rules presentation, tone of writing, and just how I’m wired. I’m sure other people feel this way about games from GURPS to Exalted.

I’m an old Palladium fan, but that’s how I started in the hobby. That’s not so much a Click Factor as my native tongue (which might be why I feel compelled to write in italics with exclamation points at times!!!). You could say the same of Rules Cyclopedia D&D.

The Click Factor isn’t always an immediate thing. It took a revisit to Castles & Crusades before the light went on. I’m following the same sort of path with EABA, as I also messed with it before to middling effect.

If a game doesn’t “click” for me, that’s not to say I won’t use it or work on it, but it’s a far tougher endeavor. Feeling comfortable with a RPG product is an invaluable thing. Sometimes it comes from experience, sometimes it comes from writing what you want yourself, and sometimes it just clicks.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Rolemaster Rome

The Roman Republic, and later Empire, remains a source of interest and inspiration today. From countless novels set in those times to the popularity of movies such as Ben-Hur to Gladiator and TV shows such as Rome, that ancient civilization still seems to fascinate us. It's easy to see why--Rome stood for power in its time, and adventure in remote, wild places. Add this to the intrigues of power, a whole host of insane wars and battles, and images of gladiators and martyrs alike facing bloody doom in the Coliseum, and you have a time and place that's fertile for stories and adventure.

Enter Graham Bottley's Rolemaster Rome, a new product by Arion Games that seeks to provide all that's dynamic and involving about Classical Rome for Rolemaster Classic. For those of you out there that are Rolemaster SS or FRP fans, worry not--a conversion document has been released as part of the pdf download. Ringing in at 200 pages, this is the first Rolemaster-dedicated product from Arion, whose previously best known product was perhaps the re-issue of the classic RPG Maelstrom. No matter, because there's a lot to like in Rolemaster Rome, though also a couple of places for improvement.

Rolemaster Rome begins with racial selections (Roman, Gaul, and Greek), and briefly mentions traning packages suitable for a Roman Campaign. The table of special abilities seems to fit quite well into a Roman-themed campaign, with entries like "Rome-Born", "Man of the People", and "Natural Roman" conveying some of the edges in Roman public life amongst the privileged.

There are some minor rule adjustments included to tweak Rolemaster Classic for a Roman campaign--mostly telling you which options from Character Law to "turn on". Of particular interest here is the addition of Dignitas, an attribute reflecting social standing, public achievement, and honor. This is largely a social attribute, to be rolled in sort of a "don't you know who I am?" situation. I found one of the best tweaks Rolemaster Rome presented.

Curiously enough, Rolemaster Rome glosses through some of the geographical descriptions of the Roman Empire itself. Chapter 3, which is supposed to address this, covers under 10 pages. I thought this was a strange design decision. A short Chapter 4 on Magic follows this, which discusses the minor modifications and restrictions of spells for the setting.

If Chapter 3 was a disappointment as far as presenting Roman geography, Chapter 5, which deals with Roman Life, is not. 30 pages here cover every facet of life in Rome, from the role of family to the life of slaves to wages, travel, sexuality, and so much more. This is where Bottley's writing really seems to come to life, and is a highlight of the work.

Chapter 6 is a brief overview of Rome. This session again suffers from the same brevity of Chapter 3, but will provide a basic overview of the historic capital of the Roman Empire.

Chapters 7 & 8 cover weapons/armor and price lists, respectively. The weapons and armor chapter is a fun one, with plenty of illustrations, and it's clear a lot of consideration went into its crafting.

Chapter 9 covers the Roman Legions, and does a good job of providing guidance on some of the different organizational methods that were used. Chapters 10 & 11 cover deities and mythology, and likewise do a nice job of subject presentation.

Chapter 12 discusses customizing your Roman Rolemaster campaign to various eras and playstyles, and that ends the Chapters portions of the book. But what would a Rolemaster product be without plenty of appendices? Guess what follows Chapter 12?

The appendices cover everything from races, professions, training packages (expanded here from earlier in the book), treasure tables, encounter tables, standards stats, and a bibliography. Add in a few sheets for Roman settlements and characters, plus a pretty nice index, and you have Rolemaster Rome. In their own way, the appendices tie this product together and make it so much more useful. If this information were spread across the book, it would be maddening. Nice work on organization by Mr. Bottley on that account.

This is not a product that shows complete 100% veracity on historical material, but neither is it too burdened with errors or anachronisms. At it's best, Rolemaster Rome evokes favorable comparisons to products such as the old ICE Campaign Classics line.

I would have liked to have seen a few more illustrations, but the art is relevant and generally informative and well-placed. The layout is a bit Spartan in places, but aside from a few curiously short chapters, is clean and well-considered.

For overall value, Rolemaster Rome definitely packs a lot in 200 pages, though perhaps a bit unevenly on various topics. However, at $15 for the pdf, some gamers might find that slightly high. It all depends on how you value pdfs--and that's an entirely different discussion right there. I would give it a solid 3.5 out of 5 on substance, and a 3.5 out of 5 on style. Rolemaster Rome shows promise, and delivers on much of it. I believe if Arion Games produces further Rolemaster supplements, we'll see some of the bumps ironed out. Either way, it's great to have a new quality Rolemaster supplement out there. Rolemaster Rome is going to scratch an itch for Rolemaster fans looking for new source material.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Looking For Skill Lists, And Valentine's Day

I'm currently working on the Mother Of All Skill Lists, which I can then use to cherry-pick for whatever genre I'm running. Right now, I'm compiling lists from Palladium, GURPS, d20, Traveller, and a couple of other systems/companies.

Point being, if anyone has or knows of a big ol' RPG skill list out there, feel free to drop me a link in the comments or send it to me at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com. Thanks!

Yes, it is Valentine's Day, and I'm doing this. Don't worry--I've got the whole romantic time with the wife thing down, too:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Latest Purchases, Print-On-Demand

As part of my research for my new generic system, I purchased a couple of Guild of Blades Print-On-Demand titles this week. We'll see how they look when they come in--I'm always worried about the binding/print quality when I go print on demand--courtesy of mixed experiences at lulu.com, I suppose. Here's the rundown of what I purchased:

-EABA

-EABA Stuff!

-EABA The Colonies, by Brett M. Bernstein (whom we interviewed this week!)

I also downloaded the full version of EABA at RPGNow, along with Guns! Guns! Guns! and Ythrek.

I'm really liking what I'm seeing out of EABA thus far. We'll see if it keeps up!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Discussion: Celebs In Your Games

It's not uncommon for people to cite celebrities, historical figures, and other famous folks for the look or mannerisms of a Player Character or NPC. And that's the basis of today's Friday Discussion!

Which celebs have used for inspiration or conveying an impression in your group?

I look forward to the responses, and may you have an awesome weekend!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Special Rolemaster Coupon For RPG Blog 2 Readers!

We're continuing our coverage of Rolemaster with a special offer to RPG Blog 2 readers, courtesy of Iron Crown Enterprises. Right now, redeem coupon code 300e81aa13 for any Rolemaster Classic order from their online store, and receive 15% off your order. Offer applies to any softcover or pdf books. If you've been wanting to look at the entry-level Rolemaster Express or Rolemaster Classic, now's a great time!

Thanks again to Iron Crown for their generosity, and for letting me reward my readers! This offer will run through March 15, 2010, so take advantage while you can!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Picking A RPG System Part 2: Jekyll & Hyde

"With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two."
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde



Oh, how true, how true. In my quest for a new generic RPG system and in general, I fight against the two polar opposites of my nature. In many cases, I am mercurial and changing to the point of ludicrousness. By day, the sweet kindly GM holds sway, considering player input and maybe even giving credence to the thought of shared GMing duties. But at night, a horrific, wonderful madness descends upon me, and the baser demons of my psyche are put on the gaming table for all to see.

Here are a few of the back-and-forth struggles I have on what I enjoy in gaming. Good thing it’s ok to enjoy more than one gaming style—right?

Rules-Light vs. Rules-Heavy

I loves me some Risus. It’s one of the most fun, fast one-shot RPG systems this side of anything. And occasionally, I want a loose, light framework to maneuver in—not some huge list of conditional rules that require lots of page flipping. On the other hand, I can appreciate a good rules structure, one that clearly defines consistent mechanics. My general rule seems to be that if I have a light system, I add stuff on. If I have a heavy system, I gut the crap out of it. I end up in the middle, feeling somewhat dirty.

Random Roll vs. Point-Buy

Roll it! Let the fates decide! So what if your Fighter has a laughably weak Constitution score? It builds character, pun intended! Wait! Reverse that! Let’s maximize everything using point-buy, so you can play the character you want. You have 2 points left over and want to learn Basket Weaving? Fine, just fine! Goodness, what a well and carefully-built character. It’s a shame he’s missing A HEART.

Skills vs. No Skills

I appreciate the freedom and player ingenuity that the lack of a skill list can provide. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Swords & Wizardry and Microlite74 so much—it’s one more impediment to getting down to the nitty-gritty that’s out the window. However, I grew up on games with skill lists, and many players like a quantifiable risk of what they want to do. Rolemaster and Rifts or Red Box?

Lots of Dice vs. Less Dice

On one hand, I love the idea of one simple roll to determine the outcome. Get the hell out of the way of the game, dice! But man, like a big portion of the fun in the hobby is about rolling dice. D6s, D8s, D100s, D20s, and yes, even the poor, oft-forgotten D12. The dice are a part of the experience, for a lot of us. Plus, games with lots of dice give me another reason to visit Gamescience.


The only place I’ve really trended one way would be Player Narrative Control vs. Centralized GM Power, where I definitely skew well towards the latter. I’m a fascist, I know. But at least I’m not a monster.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Q&A With Brett M. Bernstein

Today I'm pleased to interview Precis Intermedia's Brett M. Bernstein. Brett is the author and/or publisher of countless distinguished games and gaming products through Precis Intermedia (sometimes referred to as PIG). His company remains one of the most quality, successful, and well-recognized small press gaming companies. Brett was kind enough to answer the following questions about running a small press endeavor, his publishing efforts, and his upcoming boxed set, Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits!


1) It's been a tough year for a lot of folks economically, both in and out of the hobby. Have you seen any indicators, adjustments. or changes in your RPG company as a result?

I've tried a lot of different marketing ideas over the years and found that methods other small press publishers employ often don't work for me. Meaning: I do things a little differently from other publishers. While the economic climate has affected secondary aspects like distribution, it has not directly affected the core aspects like digital goods and direct-orders.


2) I've always thought your site and your products (especially the available customization of your Disposable Heroes line) offered pdf solutions for gamers well ahead of the curve. Was that a conscious design? Do you see any differing trends for gamers who buy print copies vs. those who buy electronic copies of your games?

I suppose everything I do is of conscious design, but some of it is also due to serendipity or just a desire to work more efficiently. Disposable Heroes Paper Minis, for example, was originally put together as a single download of the first three fantasy sets. They were assembled in InDesign (or maybe QuarkXPress -- whatever I was using at the time). It was a lot of work, fitting 90 images into boxes and making sure they were positioned just right. Actually, it was 180 images for both front and back. When it was time to prepare the critters, I delayed it in lieu of automating the process. It wasn't just to lessen my workload -- I wanted to make the paper miniatures more flexible -- basically add more value to them. This was the birth of the current customizable system for Disposable Heroes. It started out much more basic than it is now though, evolving over time. Originally, they just outputted a custom selection of a-frame figures individually or as armies. Over time, I added labeling, numbering, and the outputting of flat counters and tri-fold figures. Today, the system also does things specifically for me behind the scenes. All the miniatures that are included with some games are output from this system. One such case is the Brutes Fantasy Miniatures Microgame.

I haven't been able to spot any differing trends between print and PDF customers, especially since the line has become very blurred. I offer to make physical books out of most of the PDFs in the catalog, so a PDF-only customer can easily morph into a print customer one week or six months after purchase. Of course, It's hard to gauge such a thing for those who purchase physical books from other sources, like retailers, but that's another topic altogether.

3) Larger publishers like Paizo and Wizards of the Coast have a larger fanbase. Yet companies such as yours, Evil Hat, and a few others have carved a niche for yourself on the gaming landscape. What does a small press company need to do to get attention with so many options out there? Do you think there's anything they can offer a larger company can't?

I'm still trying to figure that out myself. Niche is probably the point. Take the genreDiversion games. These are less than $5, less than 100 pages, and provide ready-to-play scenarios and characters. They have been optimized to be downloaded and printed quickly. They probably wouldn't appeal to those who want to spend some cash on a shiny new hardback book, but they are perfect for those wanting to play a game that gets them started as quickly as possible and for the price of a fast-food lunch. I'm cheap, I don't have a lot of time to read large tomes, I like toolboxes, and I want to play NOW. That's who genreDiversion games are designed for -- people like me.

I would like to say that a smaller company can offer a personal touch, but that's just not always the case. I've seen some horrible small press support and I've seen some fantastic support from larger companies. If anything, a smaller company is probably more flexible to meet their customer's needs and produce games that wouldn't have enough of a target audience for larger ones. I guess it all depends on the specific company.

4) Looking back at your earlier work, what's one lesson as a small press publisher you wish you had learned a lot sooner?

Get manacles on your freelancers. They go missing far too often. Oh, MY work. Let's see. I'm sure there are hundreds of things I'd do differently if I could, but then I wouldn't have learned what I know today from all the trial and error.

5) Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! is your company's entry into the boxed set market. Why a boxed set, and what can gamers can expect from this?

I have fond memories of the boxed games from the 80s and 90s. A good number of them have been crushed by now though, but I still have many on my bookshelves. Treasure Awaits! became a boxed set not because I wanted to do a boxed set, but because it was a natural fit. The design of the game almost requires three separate books and loose sheets. It's designed to be an introductory game with a solo or GM-less dungeon adventure. This involves way too much page-flipping for a single book. Thus, a boxed set makes perfect sense. It's a lot of work to make one. Making one book is relatively easy, but three books, reference booklet, blank sheets, boxes -- that's tiring :)

Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! produces a very retro-feeling, dungeon-crawling experience. Unlike the current trend for retro-fantasy, Treasure Awaits! is not a clone. It was designed with three primary goals: solo-play, GM-less play, and a simple system. It relies on only one or two six-sided dice. The first book teaches you how to play. The second book lets you explore a dungeon by yourself or with friends. The third book helps you make your own dungeons and direct games. Playtesters had family members never before interested in RPGs excited to play. It was great to hear that.

6) You recently released Gnomemurdered, a comedy-style RPG, written by RPG Pundit. Working on that type of RPG seems like it would present some unique challenges, right?

This may surprise quite a few people, but RPGPundit is very easy to work with on projects like this. He wrote the game as if it were a regular RPG, so that makes it a lot easier on me. The humor can be obvious, but it's subdued rather than being in-your-face or slapstick. Beside that, there's some great advice in there and the game is completely playable. The sample scenarios, which are parodies of other games and stories, are worth the cost of the book alone. That said, editing is right at the top of the list for my least-favorite jobs. When I publish other people's manuscripts, it's a huge chore for me to edit no matter how well it might be written. While it was a pain at times, I've worked on worse books. I also had some fun with the layout.


7) I'm sure you've been on the end of both some good and bad reviews over the years. This past year, we've seen some poor reactions to reviews by some normally well-regarded RPG publishers. Is it hard to keep your emotions in check when reading a poor review of something you put so much work into?

I've gone overboard a few times. It's par for the course. It's the personal and very insulting reviews that really set you off. This type of reviewer is often seeking to shock the reader or slant the review with an agenda in mind. I've had one review by someone who never even saw the product. The average review, whether good or bad, is usually honest and well-crafted, however. You can't fault someone for stating his opinions when it is done in an honest manner. The best advice I can offer is never to write an email or post a message while you're upset. Wait a few hours or even a few days to calm down and then go with a simple thank you or objective corrections.


8) Precis Intermedia has always seemed to me a very professional endeavor, regardless of its size. Do you think your company's professionalism has been key in your notice and success in the hobby, and if so, to what extent?

I'm not sure how to answer that. I don't know if it is key, but professionalism is certainly important. While I do prefer a more professional attitude, sometimes when I converse with certain people via email they can take offense. I forget that typing is a far cry from speaking, so my dry wit or straight-talk throws them. I have to go back and explain that I was either kidding around or simply telling them how it was. So I guess professionalism is also a handicap, because people can't understand the intentions behind some things that I type.


9) What's on deck for Precis Intermedia?

Too much :) Warcosm Assault is probably next. That's the stand-alone starship boarding actions game and add-on for Warcosm. Bold & Brave is the supers add-on for The genreDiversion 3E Manual. More Disposable Heroes sets. Then there's Pete Spahn's Stormrift RPG, which is sort of an alien-invasion/post-apocalypse game. The RPGPundit's GMing Guide is also in the queue -- I'm curious to see how this is received. And lots of other ongoing projects.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Picking A Generic RPG System

I was hoping to have my review of Rolemaster Rome finished by today, but it isn't quite finished. This weekend, I was looking at generic RPG systems to use with my Middle Isles campaign, and hopefully beyond. The hope of a system-generic ruleset for me has always been that you can use a single system you know well for a variety of various genres. Obviously, it doesn't always work like that.

I'm looking for something that's easy to learn, uses some manner of skills and traits, allows for at least semi-crunchy combat, doesn't have a huge list of situational rules for special events, possibly using a point-buy system, that makes sense when you think about it. Should be easy, eh?

I've put the candidates thus far into various divisions. These are the games (with the exception of the Final Four) that I've decided I won't be using this go-around:


The No Chemistry Division

GURPS 4e—I respect the system, but it's never clicked for me. Probably won't start now.

HERO—See above.

JAGS—Yeah, I get about halfway to the point where I'm going to pick up and run JAGS or JAGS-2 again, then it all falls apart. It's like that ex-girlfriend you keep thinking about getting back with, then you go out together, and you have nothing to say to each other. I love everything about JAGS except....JAGS, apparently. Wait, that's not right. I love the thought of JAGS? There—I have now put more thought into my relationship with a role playing game than that with several exes. Happy?

Cortex—Still reading. Not digging it right now.


The Too Pretentious To Seriously Consider Division

The Window
—OK, so it sounds like the author has mellowed over the years. But this is too rules-light anyways, I think. But I can never get past the writing. That's a shame when a product allows that to happen.


The RPGnet Sweetheart Division

Wushu—Automatically eliminated by merit of it being recommended at 114,567 times a year at RPGnet whether it actually meets the criteria for what people want or not. RPGnet Wushu fans, if given a chance, will recommend Wushu to you not only as an RPG, but as a dietary supplement, living will template, breakfast cereal, and a political manifesto for Bolivian Leftists. As an afterthought, I will add it is way too loosey-goosey for what I'm after.


The Crunch-Lites

PDQ/PDQ#
--I really, really enjoy the PDQ system. But it's a little light on structure for this go-around. I think I want to run Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies at Gen Con, though!

FUDGE—For me, FUDGE was never quite as solid as FATE. And I've decided I don't like FUDGE dice.

FATE
—Even though the 3.0 version of FATE is a little more fleshed out, I think we're going with something a little more traditional this time around.


The Eric Gibson Has Killed It For Me Division

d6—Right now, I'm just so tired of the crap surrounding the on-again, off-again drama of d6, I don't even want to look at d6. It isn't the system's fault, but I'm tired of it right now.


The Just Outside Division

Iridium Lite—I have an on-again, off-again project I've been using Iridium Lite for. I really think I need a break. The system is fun, and makes sense. But not this time.

Savage Worlds
—Yeah, it's nothing against one of the hottest rulesets on the market, but I don't think it'd work for my current gaming circle. Another time, perhaps?


The Final Four

GenreDiversion3—How can you not like Precis Intermedia? All they do is make solid, affordable gaming products. In baseball, GD3 would be that guy who reliably hits .275 every year, is decent in the field, and can be counted on for about 16-17 home runs. I've got a few concerns regarding scalability, but let's see how another read goes.

Basic Roleplaying
—Basic Roleplaying is fantastic. It's got a Quick Start version—always a plus, and the system has been around so long for a reason. It's easy to add options to, but I'm not totally sure I'm sold on combat or roll-under. And I don't know that I want to put the time in to customize just now.

EABA—This is a system I hadn't messed with in a while, and in reading it again, it really made a lot of sense. I love the Universal Chart, I love the simplicity and scalability, I love the points-buy scheme (I think). Let's see if I remember why I put it aside or not.

Mini Six—Somewhat free of the d6 fallout I mentioned above, Mini Six has a lot of good things going for it: easy to pick up, short, and free. If my current d6 hangover doesn't kill it, this may be it.


So, that's it. I have a lot more reading to do. I've already flipped through a lot of other free systems aside from the ones mentioned above, but unless something new comes across my radar this week, one of those is it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Closed On Account Of Big Game

Will reopen tomorrow.

If you want to get on record with your Super Bowl predictions, feel free to comment below, with your genius preserved for all posterity. Actually, consider the comments here an open thread for any geek-on-geek football observations you want to make.


In hoc signo vinces (I hope!)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Saturday Reading: Generic Systems

Here's a few freebies I'm reading (or rereading) and comparing today, as we enjoy a snowy Saturday in Indiana with no place to be:

-Mini Six

-x6 Core Edition

-Basic Roleplaying Quick Start

-EABA Lite

Can you tell I'm on the prowl for another generic system? This time around, I'm looking for something a little more traditional and fleshed out than my beloved PDQ or FATE (both of which are excellent systems, please don't get me wrong).

I thought about GURPS Lite again, but man, I just can't do it. I get the system, but we just can't connect--it just never clicks. Some systems are like that, I guess.

(Also,, a big blogosphere welcome to the blog of one of RPG Blog II's buddies and one of my favorite Palladium authors, Jason Richards. If you're so inclined, make sure to add Jason Richards Cannot Be Trusted [that's the name of his blog, not a reference to his trustworthiness as an individual] to your blog listings).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Discussion: Boxed Sets

Well, here we are at another Friday. Here at RPG Blog II, we roll into a Super Bowl weekend (Go Colts!) with another Friday Discussion. Nothing to heavy, nothing too profound, just gamers talking about the hobby we love.

This week's question comes from a RPG Circus interview we had last night we with James Raggi about boxed sets (the episode should drop shortly).

What do you look for in a boxed set RPG? A complete game? Maps? Dice? A reasonable price point? All of the above?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Player Versus Player

I think we’ve all seen dysfunctional RPG parties in our games, with a Drow Assassin and Cleric of Saint Cuthbert trying to work along with a Chaotic Evil Barbarian and a Paladin of Kord. Okay, so that example may have been taken from a campaign I was once in (I was the Chaotic Neutral Human Fighter in that mess), but let’s face it, players don’t need clashing characters to be competitive. Many players could be in an adventuring party comprised entirely of inoffensive monks of the same order who grew up together and all swore an oath of non-violence, and by the third session, someone will be seriously considering the best way to put their Harmonious Fist right through another character’s head.

Players like to compete against one another, even in the most cooperative of RPG parties. Here are some of the key ways in which they do that:

Loot: Oh man, we’ve all seen this. The last enemy falls, and all of the sudden you can cue the Benny Hill Theme Song (“Yakety Sax”). There’s a madcap dash for the spoils of war. Coinpurses, breastplate, scabbards, and possibly even limbs go flying in the search for Loot.

Even in groups with an adventuring charter that ensures the division of wealth (such as our current campaign), it doesn’t take much for players to quickly begin angling for the best piece. Over the years, I’ve found Loot is sort of a secondary competition, always there but only occasionally super-bloody.

Body Count: As a great man once said, “Let the bodies hit the floor” (probably Whitman or Thoreau, can’t remember which). Body count remains a popular way for characters to compete. It’s Gimli and Legolas all over again. Taken to extremes, this can cause the deaths of surrendering soldiers, local wildlife, and peasants who look at you funny.

Power: This is all about the character build. To-hit bonuses, hit points, lethality in a fight, and how pimped out your character is. Perhaps the most common encountered, and the most problematic, for a group trying to keep a certain theme or feel going. When you find out that John-Boy just multiclassed and now has the same to-hit bonus as your Fighter AND can teleport AND can shoot fireballs, well, your simple town guardsman may just not look as appealing. Known in other spheres as Keeping Up With The Joneses.

Spotlight: The spotlight is not just for would-be thespians. Yes, the Bard wants to be in every scene (“Dude, you aren’t even here—you said you were going to the castle for the night!”) and make every little thing about him, but Spotlight doesn’t just mean that character who wants tell the compelling story of his inner Drizzt. It can also mean the guy who has to pull off the most bad-ass maneuver in combat. This can be annoying, but if your group is entertaining, it can also be one of the most enjoyable of these entries.

Last Man (or Woman) Up: I see this a lot in convention games, especially where the mortality rate is high. For example, if you managed to actually survive in the Tower of Gygax (I didn’t), that elevates you—you are a gamer of Stature and Import now. You survived the best Mssrs. Kask or Mentzer could throw at you. That character was a pre-generated one, you’ll never play it again, and yes, you only survived because your thief left a cleric to die, but who cares? You’ve lived to run another day, after all, when no one else did. (There are also RPGs such as Agon, where PvP competition is core and there is one decided winner from the game).

Position: I classify this as a little different than Power. Position is a little more metagamey. This is control for the hearts and minds of the group. Part in-character, part out-of-character, this is your influence over the direction and feel of the group. Groups with an Alpha Male pretty much have position already defined. If it’s less clear, especially as a new group comes together, this can become pretty core.

Competition between players is one of those things that isn’t good or bad on its own; like a lot of things in roleplaying, just enough can add some spice, too much can see things get nasty. Too little, and you feel like you’re playing with a too-nice group of kids from Barney*. Now if you’ll excuse me, the Cleric and Assassin just made a wager on hunting pheasants. Or was that peasants?


*-Seriously, on Barney (the Purple Dinosaur), why is there always one kid like 5 years older than everyone else? I know he probably makes more on one show than I make in a week, but seriously, kid—it’s more than a little creepy to see your 12 year-old hide smiling and marching in place while singing “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy” along with a bunch of first-graders. There’s a high school existence full of pain in front of you, kid.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Greatest Phantom Menace Review Ever

You'll forgive me if this is outside my normal purview, but this is the single-best critique of a movie--and all its faults--I've seen in a long while.

That's actually Part I of a 7-part review (find the other parts here, or go from the sidebar of the above link). It's definitely a bit long, but I found myself nodding in agreement throughout.

Here's the first part, for those wanting a taste:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Low-Magic Wizards

One of the toughest things for me in any game is getting the right feel for magic. In my mind, in that generic setting expectation we all formulate in our heads, cantrips and the like (lighting candles, casting shadows, creating a phantom breeze, fireworks) should be common. The higher-level stuff (turning people into stone, creating seams in the universe, causing lightning strikes), should be rare, and not just due to component cost.

I’ve often thought of just giving mages several basic, cantrip powers, along with the power to use ancient places of power, activate ritual circles, and decipher arcane runes. Mages would seek out those instances or places of power to be able to cast those spells—they’d be the only ones with the hope of doing so, or deciphering the runes on ancient weapons, or knowing the seven reagents needed to form the Elixir of Undeath. It’s definitely a great adventuring hook, if nothing else.

For example: The mage in your party is not the all-powerful wizard of old. He seems to possess a minor healing touch, due as much to his encyclopedic knowledge or herbs and salves as anything. A few minor potions and odd passes in the air results in a thunderclap or minor pyrotechnics. It is said he can talk to the birds, and understand their language. He somehow knew the old king died a week before news came from the capital.

When the goodly warrior in your party was mortally wounded, the wizard knew he could not resurrect him with his powers. Oh, perhaps he had a few herbs to slow death and prolong his weak pulse, but the secrets of resurrection were not know to this age. However, he knew that in the Mountains of Eshem, there lay an altar with a strange incantation. On Midsummer’s Eve, he said, one could stand there—and if the required ritual was performed, one person could be brought back, no matter how close to Death’s Door they lay. So that, said the aged wizard, is where they must journey…


Castles & Crusades follows the path of Vancian Magic; I’m glad it does, because Vancian Magic is a great meeting ground and reference point at the center of the hobby. But every now and then, I get the feeling I’d like to try a lower-magic game again. I believe the niche is still there for the low-magic wizard class; it just relies on a player using more smoke and mirrors and research, rather than the raw offensive capability that has come to represent the majority of wizard play. Of a scale with Gandalf the Gray on one end and Tim the Enchanter and Elminster on the other, I think I'd like to scoot my chair a little bit closer away from Greenwood's wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rolemaster, GURPS, and Using What You Need

One of the biggest things to remember about Rolemaster is something I often hear from GURPS players as well--"only use the parts you need".

Above: Probably not GURPS or Rolemaster players.

Let's face it: systems like GURPS or Rolemaster include far, far, more game than most people will need or want. But that's what you get with a toolkit system. Now, some, like Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying feature more of a "build up" module--here's the basics, now add what you need. GURPS sort of does this with GURPS Lite, and Rolemaster Express can also be seen as a basic, entry-level product. But the full versions of those games are more of a "here's everything, take what you need". In one module, the all the parts you need are on the shelves; in the other, the basic models are on display, but the accessories are just back in the stockroom. There's no correct model here; only preference.

There isn't a right or wrong approach, but I think that sometimes GMs worry about external perception of their game--that if they aren't doing Rules As Written, they'll be seen as playing some bastardized form of their game. I have played in exactly 1 Rules As Written campaign in the past decade--a D&D 3.5 outing, and it was atrocious. Too much research, too much retconning of resolutions, too much rules lawyering. When we admit that every game will have a certain amount of drift to it, I think we become much more open to looking at more games as modular toolkits. And remember: just because you've hacked a system doesn't mean that suddenly the rule of law will not prevail. If your group still favors rules more than rulings, a one-page houserule document can neatly indicate what is and is not being used.

It can be fun when you take a raw marble block of a RPG system and turn it into a well-sculpted, responsive personal masterpiece. I think it can also tell you a lot about your preferences for game play and as a Game Master.