Sunday, October 23, 2011

What are the strength of a table top rpg anyway?

I was pondering the ways people approach their rpg sessions lately. One brain child of that was my previous post about Rifts. Now I have been thinking about that roleplaying aspect again, and more specifically the immersion some of us crave.

For some they see the game session as an opportunity to wind down, kill some orks and hang out with their friends. Yet others play it as they would chess or a game of bridge, they sit down with some strangers, maybe in a game store, and try to manipulate they rules and procedures in order to grow and develop their in game persona. There are more than one way to approach a rpg session.

Like you might know by now, I love the old school games with their relaxed attitude and how they are first and foremost games. But, I also like the new school games, the story games which focus on enforcing themes and crunchy parts for things like relationships.

It's not unheard of the latter to focus on more emotionally engaging subjects and themes. A game of that school might actually be intended to emotionally engage and challenge not only the character, but also the player. I find that interesting, in more than one sense.

When you sit down to play a game with strangers in a game store, you might prefer a game which lets you sit in your comfort zone. You do stuff which anyone can understand and follow along, without getting their panties in a twist.

Compare that to a game of Rifts, playing Coalition soldiers. For some that is just as abstract as playing chess. You gain XP by wasting the opposition, fair deal. For some others it might make them sit up straight and wonder what it means to play racist bigots with guns.

A few years ago I could see and hear how gamers I used to play D&D with now talked about how they had a "raid" or a "run" to attend with their guild in World of Warcraft. They had been hooked and online gaming took time out from planning a face to face session with friends. Personally I thought it was nuts!

Now, consider that WoW probably does that part of "playing an abstract logical game of chess with strangers" part quite well, what is left for the table top?

Maybe, just maybe, those games which plays best with friends, or at least with people who might like to get somewhat emotionally engaged, is what is uniquely well done by a table top rpg?

Could it be, that when immersion is key, is where these peculiar games really shine? I have a very varied view of the would be thespians at the table, but I do think going that extra step while engaging the game is what WoW will not let you do. For good, or bad...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dogs of the Riftsyard

Have you ever played Rifts? Maybe read a few of the books? Even owns a copy of the game?

For some reason (yeah, I know), this game often makes people blush or just have them talk about how they are above that kind of stuff. I'm not. I like that gonzo shit.

Now, I've been thinking about how to play Rifts, and using any kind of game system but the one in the book. Stay cool Kevin, I'm not going to be publishing any conversion notes! But, that game probably could work with what it got. Hey, I'm thinking of a cool way to approach the setting.

I was listening to the very cool podcast Canon Puncture Show and in it the idea was suggested to think of the setting from a new perspective. The idea was to merge Dogs in the Vineyard with Rifts. This got me thinking. I would do this, but take it one step further than suggested in that show.

So, in DitV you play 18 year old virgins, with guns, who have been educated to act like god sent emissaries of mail, doctrine, justice and death. You are supposed to enforce a social rule which many people find quite medieval at times. In the North America of Rifts we have another society, The Coalition, which is a hundred times as unpleasant. Basically it's all the racial elitism and militarism of Nazi Germany or some of the gun toting nut jobs around even today.

Now, mix and stir.

You play young soldiers in the Coalition, and not only are all the aliens out there really out to get to get you, that racial supremacist ideology is the last hope of mankind. How about that?

That could be a very interesting game about hard choices, ethical dilemmas when you explore the truth of that ideology. Maybe it could even be quite interesting as a very black comedy.

Lot of people probably would not get it at all...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Some musings on skills

I was listening to the Roll for Initiative Podcast, and they were talking about non-weapons proficiencies and "skills" and it dawned on me when skills work and when they don't.

In BRP you have skills, lots of them. You also have stats, and sometimes you roll against those. Usually those are the Luck, Know and Idea rolls which are stat x 5 for a percentage. More often than not, those are only used when there are no special skill, or for specific procedures or mechanics detailed in the rules. The specific skills are mostly based on the development points you put in there, even if high stats might give you a slight bonus in some incarnations of the system, like my beloved Stormbringer.

In Warhammer (1st and 2nd ed. at least) you mostly roll against your stats (weapon skill is a stat, I'm just saying...) and the skills you have just gives you a bonus to a stat check. They are mostly feats or talents to diversify your class. You either have a skill or you don't, so you don't develop them with points.

In 1st ed. AD&D (and 2nd ed.) the proficiencies are legion, and they are bascially skills for lot of different special knowledges. To use them, you basically roll a stat check, with a bonus.

In the Nalfeshnee edition (Type IV you know?), you have a very short list of skills. They are based on development points, but bonus from stats play a significant part. You roll the same die as when you, say, make a save.

Do you see some patterns?

This is how I rate those system on a subjective enjoyment level.
1. BRP skills are fun, worth my time and they make the game interesting
2. WH skills are nice for colour, but I depend on my WS and my I.
3. Why not just roll a stat check?
4. "I need to solve this problem? Gee, I wonder what I will choose? I seem to have one skill for stealthy stuff so I roll that I guess. Was it just like a stat check/save you said? Can't I just use my DEX?"

While it might not be the same thing for everyone, I think I've found out what works for me. In 4th ed. they don't really present you with much a choice. You can have any colour, as long as it's black. right? In WH I have a schtick which I can groove on for colour. Nice. In AD&D, why didn't I just roll my DEX?

I think a game which uses skills should have a mechanic that feel fun and involved and don't feels like it could have been a stat check. They have to be something clearly different from a stat check. Preferably they should be something which not everyone off the street can be expected to have access to. Also, when you have a cool skill mechanic, the choice to roll a specific skill must involve some choice and diversity, to allow for multiple ways to place those development points while still build viable adventurers.

Your mileage might differ. I really like CoC, RQ and Stormbringer while 4th ed. bores me to tears. My summary would be: if you tack on a skill system, make it large enough to matter and roll off your stats otherwise. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Old School Psionics - the final word

As long time readers of this blog knows, I started a project to clone Supplement III since I am fond of psionics. I have reached the end of the road of that project, and it wont materialize as intended.

The fact is that when you delve deeper into Supplement III, you realize that this some of the worst written rules in the D&D canon. The editing is abysmal and the rules contradictory and clunky.

There are two ways to approach this, one is to rewrite it to conserve the feel or the other is to try to untangle the mess and present it the way it was intended. I had intended to do the latter, but I found it was way harder than expected. Partly I guess that comes from loosing all respect for the original after spending some time with it. I also felt the tug to just write my own, but then it would not be a clone.

But, after all those negative vibes I am happy to say that someone have managed to create a set of rules that have that old school feeling, preserve thrust of the original and are clear and lucidly presented. I direct you to the Retroroleplaying blog by Randall Stukey. Randall have written the very cool Microlite 74 and Microlite 75 rules, and those contain a very workable and excellently presented rules for psionics, in the spirit and style of Supplement III.

My project floundered, but at least someone managed to present something instead. My hat off to Randall for his great work.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

G+ really?

I'm seeing the phenomenon that is Google+, and how Zak have manged to bring everyone together around this new online gaming tool. Since I am wary of google and their way to grasp after every activity I do online (Hm.. who own Blogger, again?) I have not yet joined in. But, I'm thinking of alternatives.

Apparently there is this thing called Ekiga which to video conferencing and instant messaging and ghu knows what. It looks like it multi platform as well.

Could it be something worth testing, possibly? I have dozens of campaign ideas and enthusiasm to GM. Maybe I have to jump in the deep and see if I float or not...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Dave!

Today would have been Dave Arneson's birthday and I guess the guy is well remembered on the blogs today. Let's remember the man who managed to transform a miniature gaming into something totally new!

I have not done much roleplaying, and thus not much posting on the blog lately. Probably it wont change soon. Still, today I got to sit down and talk to a friends about memories and how gaming have meant a lot to so many of us. Thanks Dave!
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