Sunday, December 7, 2014

D&D 5e Addresses Pathfinder's Strange "Core Assumption"

The following is a previously unpublished commentary from several years ago on aspects of game design and the design principles inherited by the designers that carry on with the 3e tradition.

A reinforcement of individualism rather than group play based on the false idea that players have to have the same advantages built into their characters as other (opposing?) players in a game with no winners or losers. Why build fairness into a game where fairness has no advantage?

Instead this creates a disadvantage requiring a way to customize the character in order for them to not be essentially similar to one another. The current myth is that the traditional class system of older editions with its advantages (strengths) and disadvantages (weaknesses) between classes creates cookie cutter characters. I hold to the idea that in some way your character is how you play it - thus a roleplaying game – not a stat driven character game. In truth this balancing approach leads to the need for specific customization and larger than life heroics to differentiate one class from one another.

Superpowers (AKA Feats) and Imagination Discouragement.

3e and its descendants like Pathfinder assume balance and discourages the creation of magical items and spells that replicate the abilities of other classes. At the same time the feats grant those same abilities to the other classes.

Here the DM is discouraged from creating "unbalanced items" and pruning his imagination in order to preserve balance and the status of the games super powers

Seriously there is no reason why you wouldn't be able to wear ten magical rings, WTF.

In the Post TSR era the fantasy roleplaying game has become a game that uses the rules to make it a players game and bully the DM into creating his campaign to conform to the rules rather than the dictates of the imagination.


How things have changed in the world of RPGs since then. It's great to see that the creative team behind the new D&D has shifted the balance of power back into the GMs court. There is no need for bizarre game mechanic based magic item limits because you can't simply go purchase magic, you need to find it/earn it. Character customization is achieved through a choice of class and background. Class features are prominent again because skills are limited to proficiency that ranges from +2 to +6 (in addition to bonuses provided by class features) and feats are optional, limited and designed to represent expert training over time and not manifest as an almost superhuman ability beyond the abilities of the most highly trained human being. Once again level 1 characters are not heroes, they're adventurers and their status as a hero can and should be determined by their adventures and how successful and heroic they perform. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gameplay Update - Ghostbusters Halloween 2014

So I promised that I would write about this session so here it is.

Currently I am playing in a group that meets every Wednesday evening at out FLGS. At the time we were playing Star Wars Edge of the Empire. Because Halloween was coming up and I had been thinking about doing this for years now I suggested that we take the Wednesday closest to the 31st (that being the 27th) to play a one shot of the WEG/Chaosium Ghostbusters RPG. Everyone agreed so I got the process started. I had about a month.

Didn't get a chance to read it

I wanted to make it present day and I wanted to make it local (Winnipeg, Manitoba).
Step one involved printing out a PDF of more contemporary equipment cards that I had downloaded some years earlier. Next I had to come up with a plot and I wanted it to somehow involve local hauntings. That wasn't too hard to research as there are plenty documented. There is a tour that someone organizes that I had wanted to go on previously to research this but I just couldn't make the time. A new book on the subject come out the day before the game day unfortunately allowing me little time to utilize that. What I ended up with was a combination of historic sites and local themes that I rolled into a mass haunting event based in the tone of two Ghostbusters movies. Watching these on Netflix made up my final step before getting down to the writing.

The plot centered around a once in a millennium event that sees the nature spirit Manitou manifest at the convergence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice (Halloween). This time however something is different. The construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building (constructed 1913-1920) about 1200m from where the two rivers meet has drawn Manitou to the occult energies contained in the structure. Manitou is unable to completely materialize, instead the energies of the spirit start to enhance the haunted locals of the area.

Hotel Fort Garry

The Ghostbusters Winnipeg franchise have been called to the Hotel Fort Garry to conduct an inspection for the hotel on behalf of a wealthy Philanthropist - Mrs. Mueller-Spears who wants to make sure her departed husband's ghost won't be appearing. Mueller-Spears has just ridden herself of his haunting spirit a few months ago. His ghost would appear in their home stinking of liquor and rambling on about the annual Halloween fundraising event he would put on every year (his favourite social outing). This is the first time Mrs. Mueller-Spears will be putting on the event without Mr. Spears and  she want's to make sure it goes off without a hitch. 

The Hotel manager Winston MacKenzie is loath to call in the Ghostbusters after he hired them several years ago to remove the ghost in Room 202. The destruction and chaos they caused has left a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to Ghostbusting.

The players selected one of several pre-gens to play, gave them names and selected equipment.  The Hotel, located between where the rivers meet and the Legislative building is currently awash in ectopresence because it is Halloween and Manitou is manifesting tonight.

The player characters, Cherry, Danny, Manny, Cory and Craig start investigating the hotel when they run across the ghost of Mr. Spears and a group of his ghostly buddies who are basically obnoxious drinking and smoking business men. Playing music in the room causes a number of ghostly strippers to appear. Cherry eventually conga lines them into a ghost trap. During the attempt the group manages to explode a proton pack and destroy one of the hotel's ballrooms. Phone calls come in from Edwina Richardson, their secretary regarding reports of paranormal occurrences close to where they are. One is of a spectral horseman and several nineteenth century footmen across the river in St.Boniface and another is of the 5.25 meter tall Golden Boy statue from on top of the Legislative Building coming to life and heading down Broadway toward the hotel. Meanwhile a portal opens up behind the false fireplace in the Hotel's "Gateway Room" where Mr. Spears's Ghost and his buddies emerged. Likely a magical circle hidden in the room from some past occult gathering, the portal is now a rip in spacetime created by the stress of the paranatural displacement caused by the Legislative Building's lightning rod effect on the materialization of Manitou.

Golden Boy (Eternal Youth)

Cherry then has to deal with the lounge waitress Kerri Romanchuck who is an ex-girlfriend. The rest have to deal with the hotel manager and the newly arrived Mercedes Kuntz from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Needless to say they don't want anyone else to see the portal or the destruction the've already caused. 

The game concluded with discovering a possible way to close the portal and send back Manitou for another thousand years. Conversing with Paranormal Presenter and hotel guest Doctor Glau along with Mrs. Meuller-Spears, they find out that the silver dream catcher she used to get rid of her husbands ghost at home is just the thing needed to banish Manitou into the portal and close it. The problem is that the Golden Boy is just outside the Hotel crushing  things and the Horsemen and his footmen - now identified as the ghosts of Lois Riel and a number of Red River Rebels -  have taken over the site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the site where Mrs. Mueller-Spear's dreamcatcher resides after being donated.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

With a little luck and the assistance of their Eco-Van and Overly Eager Policeman Donald MacConnel, some of the Ghostbusters are able to keep the Golden Boy from advancing any further while the others break past Louis Riel and grab the silver dreamcatcher. 
Firing a proton blast throught the dreamcatcher at the Golden Boy, they are able to trap Manitou's spirit from inside and send it into the portal, closing it. 

There were a lot of laughs at both successes and failures during the game and everyone had a good time playing. I'd like to do something similar next year.

During my research for this I discovered Ghostbusters Resurrection, a podcast of a group playing this game. They also have a page of resources if you want to get into this amazing (out of print) RPG yourself.

Get these while you can.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gameplay Update - Cosmic Patrol, Valiant Universe, Shadowrun, Star Wars and Numenera

The previous few months have seen continued play of Castles & Crusades, Dungeon World, Dungeon Crawl Classics and even some Pathfinder. C&C is utilizing the Tainted Lands box set, Dungeon World concluded a story arc based on "Keep on the Borderlands" and explored a new campaign concept in some side sessions. I was able to run various DCC modules and am participating in the Reign of Winter adventure path for Pathfinder.

This post is however not about these games but the selection of new games I've had the opportunity to play with a weekly gaming group at my FLGS.

I had a chance to play Cosmic Patrol (Catalyst Game Labs) after our FATE super-hero game concluded. It was a one shot evening before we transitioned into the new Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight. 

Martian Amazons Included

Cosmic Patrol was amazing. Its super loose on the details and does a great job of pushing the story forward. It's a little zany but that's a bonus for a game based on classic science-fiction. It's essentially a GMless system with the story being adjucated and pushed forward by a player that takes on the role of Lead Narrator, a designation that rotates amongst the players as the scenes of the game change. It's very seat of your pants and perfect for those that like open ended play styles and have a strong imagination. Having been exposed to books, films and television in the related genre goes a long way here but isn't a necessity.

I'm not even familiar with these characters but it was a blast.

During Free RPG day I had the opportunity to play Catalyst Game Labs "Valiant Universe" quick start game based on the super-hero characters published by Valiant Comics. It utilizes the same rules system as Cosmic Patrol. I ran this game too as a one shot at our weekly game when the regular GM was absent but maintained the role of lead narrator for ease of play and to facilitate moving the story forward as easily, smoothly and quickly as possible. Also a very fun experience. Many of these open ended style games are very rewarding for me as both a player and a GM because they never fail to surprise and entertain. Also at Free RPG Day I got a chance to play Shadowrun. Its not a game I've taken any interest in previously but it was fun to play.


Fantasy Flight's Star Wars Edge of the Empire had some good moments but I found it a little difficult to immerse myself in the game. I'm not a super big fan of their proprietary dice system although it works pretty well at providing an interpretive environment that can generate some satisfying cinematic results. I just think that overall the game might be a little too complicated for my tastes. I'm not sure exactly what it was but I just didn't find this game to be very fun. That combined with the fact that the rest of the books in this role playing series (Age of Rebellion, Force of Destiny) add very few new rules but are very pricey (59.95 cover price in US dollars and up to 67.54 Canadian at my focus will likely turn to other gaming systems.

Think Thundarr at the End of Time by Monte Cook

Right now we are playing Numenera my Monty Cook Games. I'm quite impressed with this game, especially considering Mr. Cook's past endeavours fall among what I consider some of the poorest examples of RPG design. This is a true RPG that facilitates great characters, has an intriguing setting and is full of mystery and wonder. Its a science-fantasy adventure that appeals to modern concepts of sci-fi and takes influence from some really impressive sources. I played this last year at JimCon but have an even better appreciation for it since I've had time to go over the rules and read a little more about the setting. This is a game I could devote more time to despite the fact that it's books are at a similar price point as the Star Wars materials I discussed earlier. Interesting new materials and value for investment is a good motivator. I'm even interested in taking a look at Cook's new game 'The Strange" based on the same rules system.

How do I convert this to Lords of Creation?

My next post will be about the "Halloween Special" game session I had with this FLGS group. It deserves a post all to itself.

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?