Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pick A System Already

I’ve been poking around RPGnet a bit as of late, and it’s the usual mix of the good in with the bad. It’s the awesome stories about gaming table events, great ideas for off-kilter games, Exalted threads in abundance, and 1,000-post love-in threads for Nobilis.

Another sort of thread that remains popular is the threads asking people to recommend a gaming system (usually noted as “Sell Me On _______”). These can be brutally exacting, difficult, and will still feature at least once person enthusiastically recommending Wushu, seemingly oblivious to the fact the original poster wanted a mix of Rolemaster and the HERO System.

I think at times we worry too much about the nuances of system; whether Castles & Crusades is better than Dark Dungeons or Labyrinth Lord for our next game. Discussion of system and mechanics is a bit part of the hobby for many (the biggest part for some), but I think like anything else, we tend to go overboard with it.

It’s really “System Paralysis”, of a sort. We’re so worried the system we choose won’t be perfect for our playstyle that we waste time we could be creating stuff, writing for our games, or better learning the ropes of a perfectly serviceable system we already own. If a system does 90% of what we want, we still search for that missing tenth, or search for it when we could be filling in the blanks ourselves. Dice gimmicks, alternate mechanics—we’re still out there searching for that White Whale, seemingly ignoring the Generally A Bit Pale Whale we already have on our harpoon. It’s The Next Big Thing, and we’re going to jump on it, until we find out we don’t really like mechanics X or Y.

Meanwhile, the worn, trustworthy copy of D&D Rules Cyclopedia we’ve had and run our most successful games with sits in the corner, waiting to be used once more.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do a little bit of homework before running or trying something. If you’re happy with Rolemaster, running Dogs In The Vineyard might be an unpleasant surprise if you don’t learn a bit more ahead of time. That said, I think there’s a point of diminishing returns. We’re talking about tinkering with random probability and dice. Nothing’s going to be perfect.

So, no, don’t sell me on a system. I might check it out, but even if I try it, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t mind a bit of houseruling, and it beats shelling out $20 or $40 for a new RPG. I guarantee you 80% of the people swearing it’s “a perfect game” or “their go-to system” will have moved on to something else in six months or a year. I think if we really tried to do what we could ourselves with whatever system is on hand, we’d save some money and time, and probably get something closer to what we wanted besides. And RPG publishers probably wouldn’t like us very much.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Game Doesn't Remain The Same

In my teens and early twenties, my games were marathon sessions. We’d game 8, 10 hours on the weekend, and occasionally pull all-nighters. When I was homesick and stationed in Korea, I lived for the weekends, when I knew we’d be playing Rolemaster, D&D 3.0/3.5, and Palladium Fantasy or Rifts. Every weekend meant RPGs, and lots of ‘em.

I think some of my frustrations with running games the past few years centered around a refusal to give up on the weekend-long gaming epics. Instead of all day Saturday and Sunday to game, I now had four hours or so, every other weekend. Other stuff kept dropping into my schedule.

Time didn’t matter as much in those earlier, longer games. It was nothing to spend 4-5 hours on a silly side quest or just BSing. When you play that much, you’ve got the time for it. We could knock out a campaign arc in a couple of weeks. That same one might take almost a year now.

That doesn’t mean I still can’t have the marathon gaming sessions; we’re trying for one this weekend. But they’re the special exception now, and not the rule.

I think sometimes it's almost taboo to talk about these differences online, almost as if we're lesser gamers or something for our circumstances changing. As with any fandom, the extremes always are out there; the ones with seemingly endless budgets, endless time, endless commentary on how they have both. But that's not the world we live in. Adjustments must be made.

I try now to make time for catching up and general talk before the game starts; it helps keep things more focused. Additionally, I’ve tried (with mixed results) to handle a lot of side quests and the like “off-table”, either via email during the week or on a message board.

I’ve also had an eye towards campaigns that aren’t so reliant on player attendance; missing a session shouldn’t be the kiss of death. For my upcoming Rifts campaign, the players will be part of a mercenary company hired to protect a small town; a missing player can be on “temporary duty” elsewhere without too much of an impact. Of course, you aren’t going to get any XP for missing a session, but I’m not going to stop play or kill your character, either.

Some older players, now strapped for time, attempt to get their gaming in with one-shot games here and there wherever they can. That’s fine, but for me and my group, I think we still see a benefit in having recurring, longer campaigns. Yes, you can do it as kids, family, work, and other responsibilities crowd your plate; you just need to be smart about it, and realize what worked in college might not work now.

Embarrassingly, 18 year-old me saw every campaign session as an epic tale, one that would eventually put into novelization or even the silver screen (I told you it was embarrassing). 31 year-old me knows rolling dice and having fun trump any sort of “art” I’m trying to create. We’re not there to create perfect fiction, we’re there to game, with all the warts, weird twists, illogical jumps, and craziness that entails. I think when people look back at games, they don’t recall those warts so much; they recall the overall impression it left.

The actual scheduling of RPG night might have to bend to reality somewhat, but it’s my goal that in that four-hour period of gaming we do manage, we don’t have to.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Players And Dice

With at least a couple of brand-new RPGers due to sit at my table on Saturday, I’ve been working down the checklist of what I need. Extra pencils, yep. Fine beverages such as Sun Drop, Dad’s Root Beer, and Mountain Dew? Got it. Dice for the new players? Hmmm….

Now, I am pretty particular about my dice. I bow at the altar of Gamescience, although I am not adverse to grabbing a Bucket O’ Dice from Chessex for extras, or checking out unique ones from other companies. This weekend, I made up four dice sets for our potential campaign novices, complete with some extra d6s and an extra d20 (for when the luck’s gone bad in the other one).

I’ve never been one of those guys who swears up and down he’ll break the fingers of anyone touching his dice. Honestly, it doesn’t bother me if you need to borrow my dice. At the same time, I finally decided against just giving away a dice set to the new players. On one hand, I have no idea (nor do they) if this is going to be their thing or not. If they try it once and hate it, they’ve got some nice they’ll never do anything with. On the other hand, they can borrow my dice for the next few years, and I won’t care.

But really, my point of not just giving them away and making a distinction is that I’ve always felt picking out dice was sort of a special thing. I know how incredibly geeky that sounds, but I really think of it as a Gamer’s Rite of Passage. You find and buy a dice set that works for you, and that’s a bit special, somehow. I want them to pick out a set that just doesn’t seem like a loaner, I went them to find a set that matches their style and their personality.

Typing this out, I know how silly it must sound, but that’s why I’m playing “borrow” instead of “give” when it comes to dice. There are thousands of possible dice sets to buy out there. If they really enjoy gaming, I think they’ll want to get their own in good time. If not, hell, they can have some of mine. They’re just dice, after all….right?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Remembering Erick Wujcik

I was very happy to see Fred Hicks got to induct Erick Wujcik and the Amber RPG into the Hall of Fame at Origins this weekend. I recall reading some of Fred's thoughts on Erick, and it sounds as if esteems him as a designer and creator as much as I do. Of course, that got me once again thinking of the Wuj, and the impact he left.

If you don't know the name of Erick Wujcik, you might know some of his works. He was the author of games such as the Amber RPG and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Whether it was the fun of creating mutant animals in TMNT, or learning the art of intrigue and gamesmanship in Amber, his works always left you wanting more. Sadly, he passed in 2008, after an incredibly brave battle with cancer.

Of course, that wasn't the end to his work. His influence stretched from the early days of Palladium Fantasy to the Paranoia RPG, and even to the hit computer game Return To Krondor. But even more than his brilliance in his game design and writing was the legacy of kindness he left.

I can't tell you how many gamers I spoke to after Erick's passing who said something along the lines of "I e-mailed Erick, and he was so kind and pleasant in answering my questions". I was able to trade emails with him several times before his passing, and cherish the memory of that correspondence very much indeed.

One of the things that made me happiest in this hobby was to help get Erick recognized for a lifetime achievement award by the ENnies before he passed away. Knowing his longtime best friend Kevin Siembieda was able to give him the award in front of so many assembled friends, fans, and loved ones really gets to me every time.

Erick Wujcik was taken from us too soon, but he left an amazing life and body of work to celebrate. He'll be missed, but never forgotten.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Week Until Gameday

First off, I wanted to just say how much I've enjoy the Palladium/Rifts Q&A from the other day. It's certainly not  closed yet, and I'm happy to answer any additional questions you might have out there.

At this time next week, I'll be setting up for our first marathon session of our new Rifts campaign, to include character creation. I've got maps to finish (I will share when they're done), some folders to put together, and some beginner's dice sets to make for our novices (of course eventually, if they get to the point they want to keep gaming, they need to pick out their own dice; yes, that's part of the Great Gamer's Journey).

I think it's going to feel good to be back in the saddle. It's been a long time since I had a mix of gaming vets and novices as I'll have in this group, and that should definitely keep me on my toes. One thing I'll say about Rifts, it definitely demands a GM stay focused on the task at hand!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ask Your Rifts/Palladium Questions Here!

Since I've been talking quite a bit about Palladium lately, I thought it might be fun to have an open commentary thread where people can ask any questions they want about Rifts and Palladium Books. I'm not a company representative, just a long-time GM who's found some things that have worked really well.

So, if you've ever had a question about Rifts or Palladium characters, classes, GMing advice, setting, rules, how to handle something, classes, etc., feel free to ask in the comments and I'll try to answer to the best of my knowledge. Heck, you can ask me what's up with your neck of the woods in Rifts Earth! There's a chance a few more Palladium Game Masters might be around to answer things, as well. My two faves are Rifts and Palladium Fantasy, but I'll do my best to answer anything else you might have. Heck, ask me about kitchen-sink gaming in general; it's one of my favorite topics.

Let's face it: there's always a lot of talk about the way Palladium does this or that. There remain a lot of dedicated fans out there who love Palladium's games. If you've ever had a question on just about anything to do with Rifts or Palladium, now's your chance.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Low-Hanging Fruit

I have two main hobbies these days; one is gaming, and the other is IndyCar. A weird mix of hobbies, I know, but that’s me.

It seems to me that both hobbies, however, have more in common than it appears on the surface. IndyCar is still recovering from an event known as “The Split”, which saw two rival American open-wheel organizations battle for supremacy from 1996-2008. Meanwhile gaming has seen its traditional distribution module greatly lessened, with tabletop gaming much more of a niche hobby than it was during its heyday in the early 80s.

The commissioner of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Randy Bernard, often talks about picking “low-hanging fruit”, that is, getting those fans who still love racing but hated the contentiousness of The Split to come back and try IndyCar once more. Similarly in games, we have a lot of people who loved gaming, but saw life, disagreements, or circumstance cause them to stop gaming.

(I always like to think about how many RPG books are sitting in an attic or closet, stowed away, almost forgotten, that could see the light once more. Even if that person doesn’t play, perhaps a child or even grandchild stumbles across it and wants to know more).

So how do gamers go about getting back some of those former gamers? Certainly, you can argue a good percentage have probably moved onto other pursuits, and that’s natural; people change, and their hobbies change with them.

Honestly, I think that the variety we have out there today works in both positive and negative directions for the prospective returning gamer. On one hand, given the resurgence of classical gaming and the huge variety of games, plus the advent on social networking, it’s very easy to find something that should be near and dear to just about any preferred gamestyle. On the other hand, anyone diving back into the hobby would find hundreds of possible game titles, with only small differences between many of them, and the fractured nature of our fandom often means trying to find a group for a specific game can be difficult.

Right now, getting gamers back into this hobby is a grassroots effort at best; the Pathfinder Society and D&;D Encounters programs are, at best, limited in their offerings to returning veteran players outside of the window to play something.

Imagine coming back into the hobby now, or wading into an online community to see what’s been going on the past 15-20 years in gaming. Or say you click on a link to a blog where one of the gaming community’s interminable flame wars is continuing. Or, heaven forbid, you ask for recommendations on what’s a good game from RPGnet. I think the potential to be turned off, confused, or disgusted is pretty high. In a lot of ways, we remain our own worst barrier to others in this hobby, more so perhaps than even time or circumstance.

There’s probably a good reason a lot of low-hanging fruit goes unpicked. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hacklopedia of Beasts: Beautiful. Pricey.

Checking out The Labyrinth yesterday, I ran across this post detailing what the new Hacklopedia of Beasts will look like. In a word, WOW. Talk about some nice production values!



That said, this sucker's going to cost $59.99, and I think I'm to that point in my life where I'm neither young nor old enough to spend that much on a supplement or core book, if you understand my meaning. I think Kenzer hit the price point right with Hackmaster Basic, but I can't see myself investing that much in a product, no matter how nice it is. I've got too many game books already I'm not using, and there's too much free/cheap stuff besides to roll the dice on something that expensive. Plus, aesthetic have never been on the top of my list, though I suppose there is something to be said for that "wow" factor.

I don't mean to single Kenzer out, because they're a) super-nice guys, and b) clearly have something that's working for them, but these days elaborately-produced, pricier books don't jive with my "budget" gamer realities.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rifts: Promise of Power

Very few people were able to play Rifts: Promise of Power for Nokia's generally failed N-Gage. If they didn't, they missed out. Here's a couple of vids of the game I was able to find:





Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Gaming Hall Of Fame

I’ve decided to add a little something to the site: namely, a permanent list of the games that I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. Most of the games on this list are older, and with good reason; this isn’t a fly-by-night list; these are games that were proven over time to help give some of the best gaming memories I possess.

I’ll be putting up a separate page later for my little “Hall Of Fame”. So, without further ado, here’s the list of my favorite RPGs from over the years:

After some good thought, here’s the inaugural list of the twelve games I think I’ve had the most fun with over the years:

Amber
I miss Erick Wujcik every time I think of this game, but his brilliance shines undiminished through the years.

Castles & Crusades
A fantastic meeting ground between more recent d20 games and classical gaming. A system that truly clicked.

D&D 3.5/Pathfinder
Added because the two tended to blend together for me. Although far from my ideal system, it served admirably as the lingua franca of gaming whenever it was needed.

Epic Role Playing
Epic will always remind me of classic games at Gen Con, plenty of rolling to see what my character’s background and social station were, and some of the most unique magic systems I’ve ever seen.

In Harm’s Way
I have perhaps planned more games and sessions never played for IHW than any RPG I can think of. And it was still an absolute blast.

Palladium Fantasy
My first game, and still a favorite. Palladium did a great job of making their fantasy world open to monster races that felt like they could be played. The various magic systems were no slouch, either.

Rifts
Puts a tiny nuclear kitchen sink inside a larger adamantium kitchen sink, which itself resides in a kitchen sink the size of a middling galaxy. Crazy, wild, occasionally maddening, never afraid to jump the shark eight times in each direction, it just keeps going and going as one of the most gonzo games ever imagined.

Risus
If I could have written any game, I wish it would have been Risus. It includes some of the best GMing and plot advice out there. One little game sure can do a lot!

Rolemaster
The critical hit charts of Rolemaster might still be the single most-discussed/remembered game feature from any I’ve run.

Rules Cyclopedia D&D
My first encounter with Dungeons and Dragons, and still the best single-volume rules compilation for a game I’ve ever seen.

Traveller
Over 30 years have passed since Traveller came out, and it’s still the hallmark of sci-fi RPGs.

Two-Fisted Tales
Probably one of the lesser-known RPGs on this list, Two-Fisted Tales is simply the definitive pulp RPG as far as I’m concerned. It hits all the right notes, no matter if you’re trying to do the Venture Brothers or The Shadow.


Keep in mind this is just for RPGs, not supplements. For example, Triple Ace Games has made such amazing products as Hellfrost, but that’s a setting, not a core RPG. Maybe there will be another list down the road for that, but for now, it’s main RPG products.

So what games would be in your gaming Hall of Fame?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quick Thoughts On The Gen Con Exhibitor List

With the Gen Con Indy exhibitor list and floor map now out, I’ve started to review the lay of the land for this year’s Gen Con. Here’s a few quick thoughts and observations on this year’s lineup:

-It sounds like Evil Hat and Indie Press Revolution will be part of the GPA booth. That’s nice to hear, though it doesn’t look like there’s much booth space there. I liked the old Indie Press Explosion style booth—plenty of places to demo, a nice walk-by, open look. We’ll see how this compares.

-Palladium Books is back, and looks to have a decent size booth. With my starting a Rifts game, I imagine I’ll have some players stop over that way. It’s always nice to see any gaming company after a couple of years away from the convention. Happy to see Troll Lord Games, as well.

-I am totally stoked for the Lego booth. The giant bouncy pyramid they for kids last year and the demos of their board, er, block games were both excellent. Let’s hope they do something similar this year.

-I see White Wolf has a small booth towards the back this year. Any chance of their again doing the New Orleans parlor, or is it a possibility they might actually sell books along with attempts at goth chic amongst the shorts and gaming t-shirt-wearing mortals this year?

-Green Ronin appears to be way in the back, too. I believe it was two years ago when their booth was back by the electronics show, in a dimly-lit area. Ostensibly it was to get some traffic due to Dragon Age, but I didn’t like the location. Let’s see if this is any better.

-Booths like Q-Workshop, Miniature Building Authority, and Dwarven Forge should have their own convention hall, because you can easily spend hours just looking at the product at those three booths.

-Fantasy Flight again will be a hub of action, with the largest collection of booths and floor space (along with Mayfair Games) at Gen Con. There was a time when Wizards of the Coast was the hub of the convention floor. That now belongs to Fantasy Flight, doesn’t it?

-Hey Gamescience: Bring Lou Zocchi back! That’s not a request, it’s a demand. Don’t make invest in inferior, poorly-dimensioned dice out of spite. Ah, who are we kidding. You’ve got me over a barrel. Please bring back Colonel Lou?

-Cubicle 7, Pinnacle, and their assorted allies and vassals look to have some really nice floor space, sandwiched towards the front between Fantasy Flight, Mayfair, and Konami. Should be a well-trafficked area.

-Paizo Publishing has a prime spot as well, right in front of one of the main entrances.

-GOLD: The Series, Inkwell Ideas, and Triple Aces Games all in attendance? Why,yes, those are a few of my favorite things!

-The Old School Renaissance Booth. Booth 1541. I cannot wait to see how that goes.

There’s lots more to cover, but for now, suffice it to say I’m happy to see so many old standbys return once again this year. Of course, the New Awesomeness is always waiting to be discovered!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On New Players And Making Connections

One of the most interesting things to me in planning for my upcoming Rifts campaign is that I am looking at having one of the most diverse mixes in terms of gaming experience that I’ve had in a while.

Long-time readers of the site might know I’m a bit proponent of group character generation; I insist on it for pretty much all my games at this point. I think group chargen sessions are a chance to bond, a chance to keep tabs on the process, and to get a group of Player Characters that just work better together. This time will be no different, especially with the Rifts and gaming novices we’ll likely have with us.

Another item I’m thinking of porting into Rifts is the reward for making Connections with other players. This little trick, so admirably carried out in games such as Mongoose Traveller, is perfect for getting those strands that connect the players and answering the question “why the heck are we together?”

Basically, players may gain up to two Secondary skills for linking their character with another character. It has to be consensual between the two players, and though players can create as many Connections as they wish, they max out at the two free skills. Each Connection must be with a different player; no doubling up. A Connection could be anything from “Served together on a medical ship” to “First cousins from the same village”. They don’t have to be deep or even supremely integral to the character, but it’s at least another hook that might come up in the course of the game.

It’s a low-grade reward, but one that really link a diverse group together, and can help any player feel more a part of the process. It’s perhaps easiest to do in games that have skills, but there’s no reason a small Experience Point/Hit Point/Fate Point reward can’t be doled out in games without a skill system emphasis.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Going To Gen Con Indy!

For a long time, it didn't look like I'd be able to attend Gen Con Indy this year, but it looks like we'll be making an abbreviated two-day stop there this year!

If you're going to be around, I'd love to meet up with some of RPG Blog 2's readers, and possibly catch a game or so. Coverage this year is going to be much less formal this year, which I hope will give it a much more realistic, "attendee" point-of-view.

Anyhow, it's a ways off, so just keep that in mind. I might have some time one night to run a short Rifts demo or something, so if you'd like to try that, let me know!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Settling Down In The Kitchen Sink

I read a thread on Big Purple the other day (caution: language NSFW) where a gamer was bemoaning the huge investment he'd made in RPGs over the books without getting any gameplay out of them. I think a lot of us end up in that boat: we get excited over the new hotness, and then it sits. And sits. And sits. It's one of the reasons I've changed my purchasing habits at Gen Con Indy: that which is shiny on the first morning of Gen Con does not necessarily stay as such.

It's one of the reasons I appreciate the efforts of those putting out free games; it really does help when gamers can get their fix and it doesn't cost them $40 a pop. Simply put, though, most of us are to a point in our lives where there's no conceivable way we're going to get through all the gaming material we have, let alone anything else we decide to pick up.

I think that's one of the reasons I plan on sticking with Palladium and Rifts for a good while. I have the core book needed, and it's one of the games I grew up on. It's also easy to introduce multiple themes and genres into, which makes it easier to scratch any itches (supers, horror) that might come along. If I do feel like buying something, Palladium's supplements are cheap (especially on the secondhand market), and generally stay in print. Plus, there's the legendary X-Mas Grab Bag offering (including usually one X-Mas in July sale) that remain one of the best values in gaming.

It's difficult when there are so many amazing people doing great work in RPGs, but for at least a year now, most of my purchases have been dice and game accessories, little things here and there. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Time to pick a place for a while and settle down for a bit. And if I've got to pick a place, it might as well have a kitchen sink.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Megaversal Ambassadors

Greetings, all!

I know I’ve been off the grid for a while, but I’ve hit one heck of a roadblock, mentally, professionally, and everything else. These things happen to every gamer; there’s nothing to it but to work through it as best you can. Sometimes, I think it helps to go back to what you know best, back to your roots—and for me, that’s Palladium Books.

One of the things I’ve been doing as I get back in the swing of things is working on the Megaversal Ambassadors (MAs), the group I helped found a few years ago. They’re dedicated to running and demoing Palladium’s games at conventions, local game stores, and for local groups. I’ve created a new FAQ for prospective members, a game demo tracking form, a contact form, and I am working on an Ambassador registry, where interested gamers can locate a MA in their local area for demos and support. This isn’t some rules-lawyering entity, and it’s not an over-regulating bureaucracy. It’s about sharing the fun of Palladium's games with others, and helping people do the same.

If you’re one of the RPG Blog 2 readers who enjoys Palladium and think you might want to help, either with running games, artistically (logos, fliers, etc.), or just want to find out more, check out the MA forums over at the new Palladium Books website, or just drop me an email (mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com). Whether it’s the variety of Palladium Fantasy, the kitchen-sink brilliant madness of Rifts, or newer games like the zombie horror of Dead Reign, we’d be thrilled to have you on board.