Thursday, July 10, 2014

The RPG Rule Book — A Modern Illuminated Manuscript

A recent post from Chaosium regarding its Call of Chuthulu 7 Kickstarter got me thinking about what other books containing such a depth of both copy text and details existed in this world. The only thing that came to mind was perhaps medieval illuminated manuscripts of the Bible. 

Chaosiums graphic designer Badger relayed an interesting account of his process in laying out the rule book for CoC 7.

He talks about researching other modern rulebooks to learn about what is and what is not working with their design.
A quick bit of research regarding contemporary illuminated manuscripts resulted in finding the Saint John's Bible project.

The blog I was reading that lead me to the Saint John's Bible asks "what other works do we consider to be worth this sort of treatment?"

I had to ask myself, if RPG rule books seek to emulate this style of design; what one set of RPG rules would I consider important enough to be transformed into a one of a kind art object as was done with the Saint John's Bible commission?

In a previous post I talked about how the orignal LBBs reminded me of indie publishing like punk zines from the 80s. How do we go from zines to illuminated manuscripts? Full colour rule books basically start with the WotC d20 Fantasy rules they marketed as D&D Third Edition. That however was not the beginning. 

During the mid to late eighties TSR moved toward a graphic design decision of emulation. One only has to look at elements and products from games such as Top Secret, Conan and Adventures of Indiana Jones to see some examples. This trend I believe started with the Greyhawk Boxed Set and pretty much ended with the full colour pages of the Forgotten Realms Boxed Set, the latter of which I would guess was used as inspiration by the Magic The Gathering pool of artists and designers as a reference when designing d20 Fantasy. 

1983 Greyhawk Box Set
1983 Greyhawk Box Set (Interior)
1983 Top Secret Operation Orient Express (Interior)
1985 World of Hyboria (Conan RPG)
1987 Forgotten Realms Box Set (Interior) note the parchment emulation here foreshadowing  3e

Between these two ideas (conceptually though not chronologically) RPG rules books including D&D Second Edition (TSR) and Star Wars (West End Games) seem to have been influenced by the clean and attractive design of the James Bond 007 RPG by Victory Games that incorporated a blue highlight colour. This was pretty much the end of the completely black and white era.

1983 James Bond 007 RPG (Interior)

1987 Star Wars Sourcebook (Interior)

1989 AD&D (2e) Players Handbook (Interior)

As for what rules set I'd personally want to see made up as an illuminated manuscript, that hard to say. I'd hope it to be many things. Iconic such as AD&D, Elegant as is Tom Moldvay's Basic, Genre Neutral like Basic Roleplaying or FATE. Perhaps if someone actually created an amazing universal RPG system that would be the one (nice try Amazing Engine, but not quite). 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Forget the Hobbit – This is Your RPG Hero

I started reading the original Mike Grell run of DC Comics "The Warlord". Grell wrote and drew this crazy thing.
I remember reading the odd issue as a kid but this stuff is crazy violent pulp seventies anti-hero genius. This is pre Star Wars but is seriously tapping into the Zeitguiest as it's obviously influenced by Flash Gordon as well.

Much more exciting than the old D&D ads that would appear several years later.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 - Year of the Sci-Fi RPG?

Over the last several months I've managed to aquire a number of new games, many of which are thematically sci-fi. I'd really like to play them, so maybe this year for me is the Science Fiction RPG year.

Recently sci-fi seems to be occupying more of my time as well. I'm in a sci-fi book club and my regular D&D group defaults to Gamma World when some of us can't make our regular game day. I play Battle Tech monthly and sometimes X-Wing miniatures as well.

Recent sci-fi acquisitions include Numenera, Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG and Traveller 5.
Also on the shelf: A Time of War (BattleTech RPG), Star Frontiers, FASA Star Trek and Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space. Generic Sytems could of coarse be made to  fit a sci-fi game with ease. BRP, Cortex or Fate anyone?

I've already got an excellent idea for a custom campaign using the Traveller5 rules. I should really get that ready for the next con.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

PseudoCon 2014

So somehow I managed to get caught up in a few RPGs near the tail end of the week.
I ran a game and played two I'd never tried before.

Wednesday offered up a chance to play FATE at my FLGS. I've always heard good thing about it and wanted to give it a try. I ended up buying the fudge dice required to play between character creation and before we started playing. I had such a good time that I ended up purchasing the core rules at the end of the session.

I'm a big fan of what I like to refer to as "modern" or "contemporary" RPG styles. That might seem odd since most of what I write here is about older games and the games that are influenced by them.

The classic games I like most are rules light (usually fitting into a 64 page book), random (tables and wandering  monsters), and have a good deal of GM adjudication. The three things I consider to define a contemporary RPG are simple rules, group story telling, and character connections. They might not be the same as each other but they feel related.

 I can't help shake that something terrible happened in the 90s and 00s when many of the current OSR gamers were absent. Since many of us have come back to gaming, tabletop games are thriving again. When we were not paying attention the gamers that remained  helped prop up bloated jalopy games like d20. It's easy to see now that rules systems of that nature are broken and more work to run than they are fun to play. It's as if d20 and it's ilk are the Prince John of RPG games and the OSR is like King Richard returned with perhaps the proliferation of new modern RPGs being like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Not that I won't play these games, they're just not very flexible as written and are a bit of a chore.

Thursday brought me to another newer game, but this one was specifically designed to feel old-school – Dungeon World.

I'm running a regular game and it's lots of fun. The prep is specifically intended to be bare in order to "play to see what happens". I like this a lot since it mimics exactly how I DMed my very first and most fun games of basic D&D. I'm often just as surprised as the players and the excitement of seeing the story unfold without prior knowledge of anything but the main plot points is amazing.

Friday presented the opportunity to play Runequest (Chaosium 1980) with people from the miniatures gaming group I meet with monthly. I'd never played Runequest before although I've played Basic Roleplaying and other BRP style games like Stormbringer, Hawkwind and Elfquest.

I'd also never played an RPG with anyone in this group before as all our past gaming together has been focused on miniatures gaming. This was very fun as all the players were clearly very experienced and the world setting itself was super fun with all of its background, religions, tribes, cults, guilds etc.

Lot of games played and it almost seemed like it could have been a Con. PseudoCon 2014? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

JimCon 3

Jim Con 3 was last weekend (November 15-17, 2013).

Friday November 15th
I ran a game of Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space.
Ashes of the Daleks from the adventure booklet was played.
I had one excellent Whovian player who played as the first Doctor.
Not the best choice for physical stuff like forcing open doors on a space station (there were lots of these) and with no sonic screwdriver... well lets say at least the jiggery-pokery made up for the lack of more obvious solutions. Oh and with a Tardis that basically can just leave and not come back the level of play certainly was improved as more thoughtful solutions to problems were required. I really enjoy this game and once again I was left with the impression of having just watched an episode of the show. Cubicle 7 has done a great job not only with the quality of the boxed game itself but with the game system as well. I would say this falls into the category of the modern RPG.

Its bigger on the inside?

Saturday November 16th
A very busy day.

I started off running Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG for two players who played two pre-gen characters each. "Tower out of Time" was provided free from Goodman Games as part of their DCC 2013 world tour. I was send a package of "Road Crew" goodies including buttons, pencils, bookmarks and badge tags ( I paid the shipping on this stuff as I'm in Canada and that's their set up, but they sent me enough stuff to host three events - so I guess I'll get a couple more games in this year if I can).
It was a very weird adventure and very pulp fantasy influenced. That's good as that seems to be the point of the game being inspired by Appendix N genre writing. I don't think one of the players really liked the spell tables but for me this random element is what is missing in most Baroque style game systems (d20 et al.) which focus on balance when designing an encounter.
Everyone seemed to have a great time even though (or perhaps especially that) half of the party died.
I think it all turned for them when the main adversary had a spell failure that ended up working in his favour resulting in an effect that caused all the armour within a 25' radius to fall apart.

Its made of flesh!

Fuck you Tipper Gore!

Next was playing in the Total Warfare BattleTech Solaris VII Tournament . I picked some mechs from those available and started shooting. I could see this perhaps being a little more interesting next time but considering that the BattleTech group put a weekend of demos and tournaments together despite having lost some of their organizers for the event I would say they did an above par job. Great fun.

Finally I joined in on a game of Numen̩ra. We played an adventure called "The Vortex" written by the game's designer Monte Cooke and GMed by Chris Wachal. I don't want to give away any details on the adventure but I would like to say that I haven't felt this sense of wonder playing an RPG since the very first times I played D&D back in the fall of 1982 when I was nine years old. It was great fun discovering my characters powers and abilities all the while exploring a mysterious temple with no clue as to what to expect next. Rules light system, all new idea, all new encounters Рfantastic! BTW my character died at the very end.

Monte, I almost forgive you for helping make D&D shitty
Sunday November 17th

Early morning as I was scheduled at 8:30 in the morning to run a Gamma World adventure I'd written for the second edition of that game. I had one person show up that expressed interest but he wasn't willing to play unless there were some more people showing up. Lesson learned – pad the table with a player or two of friends and don't run your game too early on Sunday morning. I can't help but think that I got that early slot because I may have expressed interest in leaving the Battletech:Alpha Strike Tournament slot open so I could play in that. In any case I plan on posting the adventure I wrote here along with the one I wrote and ran at JimCon II.

Possibly the best edition

Last of all was the BattleTech: Alpha Strike Tournament using the new Alpha Strike rules that recently came out. I've been playing this for a couple of months and its a really fun game that uses a more modern rules light miniatures game system but still has the feel of BattleTech. I came in fourth place but I had great time playing with the other guys and it looks like there is going to be a resurgence in the local BattleTech community.

All the fun in less than half the time

I had a great time again this year and I recommend that anyone that enjoys tabletop games of any kind come out and play next year.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Top Secret: Meta Agents

Top Secret: Meta Agents is on its way to becoming a reality.
I've been proposing this for almost a year now and have now managed to wrangle up a number of players.

The idea is to play a Play by Post game of TSR's 1980 RPG "Top Secret" using snail mail. Players play sleeper agents that have been using their real identity as a cover. Mission packages and agents reports are sent back and forth creating the story.

"Too secret for WikiLeaks, too dangerous for the Internet"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Game Play Report - KeyCon 30

This past May Long Weekend (actually the 17th -19th - Victoria Day being the Holiday on the 20th) marked the 30th Anniversary of Manitoba's premier sci-fi and fantasy literary convention. This year as with most others, gaming was a popular component and I took the opportunity to run a couple of RPGs, in particular "Doctor Who - Adventures in Time and Space" and  "Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game".

The theme for this year's KeyCon was "The Stars are Right" celebrating 30 years of KeyCon, 50 years of Doctor Who and 100 years of H.P. Lovecraft. This lead me to run the Doctor Who RPG which I had purchased several months ago but never played before. I took my time reading the rules and the adventure during the previous two weeks and became excited about running the game as I thought I had a reasonable idea how it would play. What a surprise when it turned out to be even better. After the game was done it felt like I had just watched a good episode of Doctor Who. Of coarse I have to thank my players, none of whome I'd met before, for doing a really good job of playing the parts of the 10th Doctor, Donna Noble and Captain Jack Harkness. Thanks for playing everyone. That was Saturday afternoon.

Sunday brought me to running Dungeon Crawl Classics. We played "Portal Under the Stars" an adventure for 0-1st level characters that was included in the rule book. I had run this before at an OSR Manitoba game night I ran at my home and was feeling good about introducing it to KeyCon. Very fun time was had running this for a table of five players,  most of whom I knew from playing Pathfinder Society games (none of which were being played that day due to lack of players). We started with zero level character creation, which everyone seemed to enjoy, and moved right into the adventure which they played with a mixture of ingenuity and humour. Way to go guys, I hope to see all of you again when I run a level 1 adventure at this years JimCon in November.

I tried to record all of the players who died in the DCC game and will compile it in a later "Hall of Heroes" post along with the dead from the OSR game night.