Saturday, July 20, 2013

More experiences with Savage Worlds

Last night we finished up our latest mission in the Agents of Oblivion series of adventures we're playing. The team was this time lacking their hacking resource, so they had to rely more on fist fights, language skills and some sneaking.

This time we started with a mission briefing, and then spending resource points on equipment and funny gadgets. I think this part of the super spy genre worked quite fine this time. But, the more I play this game the more I start to feel the books are terribly organized. I created some cheat sheets for the different resource options, and I think they are the reason that part of the mission was fun. There are multiple editing errors in this part of the book, and I have compiled an errata list. Maybe I'll post my cheat sheets here, and send the errata to Reality Blurs.

During the mission briefing they got to hear that they would be going to Iraq, where some ancient artifacts stolen from the Baghdad museum during the invasion had surfaced once again. One was more mysterious than the others, namely a cuneiform tabled with a new story about Gilgamesh! They went to Baghdad, talked to lot of people, had a car chase and found and placed lots of bugs for surveillance. Information gathering galore. Finally they took a flight to Beirut, drove to Baalbek and their went shopping. The last scene was a big firefight between two groups of cultists, with the PCs in between.

One thing I noticed was that even when I made an effort to involve the game rules a bit more than before, benny usage still was an issue. During 2-3 hours you have to roll a lot of dice in order to spend your bennies, earn some more and get to spend some of those as well. First I forgot the give out any, when I did they still ended the session with quite a few left over.

Is this my final proof that whatever I might think of myself, I'm a guy who hand waves most of the rules? It doesn't seem like I can bring enough dice rolls to bear for those bennies to matter. Or is is Savage Worlds built so that the average session and amount of bennies match up at a longer sessions than mine?

Who knows? I will post some thought on scenario design as well in the (hopefully) near future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Deserted Island experiment - Hunter: The Vigil

Sometimes I see...


...and they need to be hunted down...

If you were to take the new Hunter game to a deserted island, the first question if you can only take three books is, what's core? Is the WoD rules core and the Hunter book a supplement? If I choose to include the Hunter book itself as a core book, this is my list.

  1. Mysterious Places -There are more interesting books in the new World of Darkness for doing things beyond the big lines like Vampire and Mage. I like that. This book is one of those I think you could use for many modern day games of creepy stories. The fact that it's name reminds me of the Ars Magica books Mythic Places doesn't hurt either. This is a book with some interesting locations, designed to be horrific, weird and creepy. I think they have succeeded quite well. All of them come with story suggestions and quite evocative descriptive text. I bet you could probably come up with this kind of stuff on your own, but I need to be kickstarted by a book like this.
  2. D6 Adventure Locations - I'm unsure if that D6 is part of the title or just telling us it's part of a game line. I guess you've noticed that I branched out. This is not a White Wolf book. In this book you will find maps of airports, conference centres, hotels ans other everyday locations. Add to that a paragraph of items commonly found at such a location, and you have some excellent help to make a fight scene in one of these places be just a bit more interesting, with some parts of the interior decoration to throw around. But, even though this is a very hand book, it looks bad. There are lots of clip art in it, which looks cheap. Then there's the cover illustration which I hate. What the heck is that woman wearing? It's wet suit for diving? So why does it look so flimsy over her breasts, suddenly clinging closely to the shape of them? Why does it look like it's metal polished to a high sheen, or is it just that it looks like a bad Photoshop colouring? I guess you get the point.
  3. Supressed Transmission - You know what this collection of articles is, right? I'll just summarize. Ken Hite. You need more? Ok, this is a book collecting Ken's columns from Pyramid Magazine (yet another game company, Steve Jackson Games). Here you can find lots of ideas for conspiracy and weirdness, which can conceal those you hunt, or give hints to where they have hidden throughout history. If nothing else, you'll have lots is fun reading and odd facts you can befuddle your players with, and amuse yourself with. There's even a second volume, but then this list would be too long.

As you can see my game of Hunter:The Vigil would encompass a lot. As far as I know there have not been much support material published for H:TV so why not look at other game lines for inspiration?

Would your list look different? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to say so.

For my next post in this series I'm tempted to try to limit D&D or Traveller down to three books. Can you do that to 35 years of supplements? Maybe.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My problem with Fiasco

I have read so many times, and heard on so many podcasts, that Fiasco is a great game. Having listened to some actual play, and detailed rules explanations, I find that this really isn't a game for me. I kind of wish it was, though.

Not every game is for everyone, and you don't have to love every game. Just move on, right? Kind of true. The thing is, the kind of play that Fiasco supposedly is all about is one I think sounds interesting. I also think the multitude of play sets are really cool, and some are kernels to really cool games. Maybe there's something to learn from Fiasco, or maybe there's something that can be found to make it work for me? I'll start to nail down what I don't like.

Playing the game is, unless I have misunderstood something completely, basically done in four phases. First you roll the dice and distribute them using the play set, then you make shit up until you run out of dice, them you roll them again and you make more shit up until the end.

What I don't like about that is the "making shit up" part. In that part, you for each scene get to decide how it ends or how it's set up. That's what's rubs me the wrong way. If someone else is deciding what happens, why should I sit and waffle about what happens? This, I feel, robs me of "player agency" or if you like, the point where I think rpgs really shine. That thing, I think, is going into a game ready to gamble some resources not knowing the outcome, exploring a secondary world. If someone sits there and just makes shit up, why should I then play out that scene? I'd like to turn that on it's head.

When I listens to people playing Fiasco I don't hear people play. I hear people just talk. Making shit up without any relation to effort involved, traits involved or chance just don't a game make.

This makes me think of another game I have read but know played, and listened to and becoming confused. That game is Burning Empires. In that game you do one thing differently, though. In BE you have one trait that is the one that determines success in that scene, and after the talky part you actually do the game bits. You roll dice and "make your bets". I'm wondering if that retrofitted to Fiasco would suit me better?

So, what do I like about all this?
I really like the idea of the setup for the game in Fiasco. Coincidentally, in Burning Empires you also start the game by generating the setting and framework for play. That part I think could be really cool to explore in a game of a more traditional bent. Maybe that part is why I come back to Fiasco again and again, and even bother to talk at length about a game which looks like it will bore me to tears. But, the system for building a city in Dresden Files looks interesting! There is a system based on that in the new shine FATE Core book I own. Maybe there is a way...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Deserted Island experiment - Call of Cthulhu

A few days ago I started a new thing, listing three supplements for one of my games, that I'd take with me to a deserted island. Now the time has come for Call of Cthulhu.

  1.  The 1920s Investigator's Companion - this book might be disqualified as it can be considered a "core book" for players. I'll add it to my list anyway, and add a fourth as a bonus. This book is just great when it comes to suggestions for character concepts. The long listing of professions and how to create those kind of characters are really helpful. If you want to get away from the dilemma that the characters are an unlikely bunch, you could pick a section and have all make characters from that type or one similar. Other goodies are the sections on research facilities, and how to get around. If you play in a historical setting these facts are gold. They are also well presented. We'll see how the 7th edition is designed, but this book would be great as the core of a Players Guide.
  2. Cthulhu by Gaslight 3rd ed. - This choice might surprise some, but I think the second great era for any kind of horror game is the gaslight era. This is a great book with lot of details about the geography of London and how people lived back then. There are also some good advice and tweaks for character generation that can be used for other eras as well. Naturally there are a few scenarios to start that campaign at the island. 
  3. Arkham Unveiled - Is there any book more iconic than this? Arkham is at the heart of Lovecraft country, and this is a book that gives a pretty good overview of a typical city of that area. There are lots of small mysteries and oddities you can make adventures out of, and there are nothing better than a university that can work as a patron for cerebral adventurers. If that's not enough, there's bootleggers and criminal gangs for more two fisted games. Round it off with a few scenarios and you have a good place to mine for lots of gaming.
Now what's the bonus item? Well, there are two obvious choices. One is that great campaign which some have dubbed the best rpg campaign ever, Masks of Nyarlathotep. The problem with that one is that I have not read it, or played it! I don't even own a copy. I would love to play it, mind you.

The second obvious choice, and the one I'll pick since my list above leans toward the historical eras, is Delta Green. Sure, by now it's also history, but it's modern day and tweakable to be used for 2013 as well, or whatever. It would be easir for me to pack for my island trip as well, since I own it. But, I have actually not read it all, so that will suit me fine. I can stay on the island for a while!

I bet some of those choices would meet with arguments! Agree? Disagree? Feel free to say so.

We'll see what game comes up next. You know where to find me...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Story games, really?

I feel like I have to rant a bit. I realize most people have no interest in the details of how things became like they are, but I hate it when people don't bother to find out.

Why the rage? I heard somewhere someone lamenting the fact that these days "indie games" is just a distribution label, and say nothing of the game. That person also seemed to like the term "story game".

You know why indie game is a distribution label? It has nothing to do with the subject of the game! Read what it say on the tin. Indie means independent. The Forge was started in order to talk about self publication, and creator owned properties. It was all about independent game publication. It has nothing to do with subject matter. Why would it? Look at the name again. Indie.

My second hang up then. You know why the story game community of that name was set up? It was because some people wanted to talk about things Ron Edwards had decided he did not want at The Forge. So, "story games" like they talk about there, are games that people want to talk about in a way Rod Edwards didn't want at his web forum. There, a really solid definition of game content and subject matter. Or not. No, it's not a distribution label.

Story games. Sheesh.

I think you could just as well call it hippie games, like they call non-traditional games at the Happy Jacks RPG podcast. A fun term, meaning nothing. Except of course, that games talked about at the Story Games community are all about long haired individuals with flowers in their hair. Naturally.

Sadly I realize it's damn hard to talk about these things, and I have used those term myself. But, I knew the history.

Why do I even get upset about these things?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Impressions of FATE Core - look and feel

So I finally got my copy of FATE Core. While I am less than happy with some Kickstarter projects, this was not one of them. Evil Hat kept in contact during the whole process from the funding until arrival of the goods, always updating with the latest status. Take note, all you who run rpg Kickstarters! Let people know what's going on? You have taken their money, they deserve to know you have not left for a sunny beach with their money. Kudos to Evil Hat. they did this right.

How is the game?

Well, I have not yet run a game, since I've only owned the book for a few days and I rarely read a game book from cover to cover when I first get it. But, it looks good. I am familiar with FATE 2nd ed and this looks like a really good update. It's well presented and from what I've glanced, it reads well. All concepts are clearly presented.

This is where I'd like to take a moment to compare this book to The Dresden Files game. In that game there was sidebars and "boxed notes" laid out to look like handwriting, and post-it notes. It was horrible! The page looked so busy I got tired from reading just a few pages. It also made it a pain to skim a few pages to search for something, or get a grasp of things. With so busy a page, it made the eyes jump all over the place. Less is more, guys.

Not so in FATE Core.

In this book it's all black and white and the sidebars and boxes highlighting stuff is integrated in the graphical profile of the whole page. If that sounds like just so much typographical gobbledygook, I will hold up classic Call of Cthulhu as an example. If you take a book like Arkham Unveiled or The Fungi from Yuggoth, you'll see two column lay out, few fonts and the boxed illustrations align with the text columns. The eye needs not stray. Everything you needs in where it's expected to be.

There's more.

One thing I really like is how Evil Hat have put small notes in the margins, pointing out where to go for details on something mentioned in that paragraph. Especially in the beginning chapters which explains the basic concepts and character generation that is really helpful. It's taking the usage of an index to the next helpful level. There is an index, but thanks to these hints it's quite short. I think it works pretty well. We'll see how it holds up after heavy use.

Another thing I really liked were the illustrations. I found no gravity defying breasts and ridiculous  armour, and in general women were depicted sensibly. Also worth noting is that there are quite a few non "white dude" individuals. I liked that. I have not found any really amazing pieces that I stood out, but I found none that made me cringe, which I think is far more important. You can say what you want about knowing your target audience, but clearly Evil Hat wants to think beyond the niche here and they should be applauded for that.

This game I like, and I have seen enough of the rules to like them as well.


You know what I have a problem with? Now when I have this game and Savage Worlds, I have two games that can cover multiple campaigns. (Yeah, I also have GURPS but I have given up on that.) Why is that a problem? What should I use it for? I have too many choices! But, maybe I can finally get a Planescape game that feels like it lives up to the setting's potential. Just maybe.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deserted Island experiment - Unknown Armies

I just listened to the THACO podcast, and they did something interesting. They talked about which game they would take with them to an deserted island. Old hat, yes, but with a new twist. They stipulated that you got the core book(s) for free, and could only take three supplements. Which do you pick?

I'm going to amuse myself by listing some of my games, and my picks. First out is Unknown Armies.

Why Unknown Armies? Well, first off it's so damn well written. The second edition is one of the few game books I read from cover to cover just on the strength of its prose. The content is good as well, but the prose is excellent. UA is a game where violence matters, where magic is ugly and hurtful. It's a game about the urban modernity, and its backside. It's just like the highfalutin 1st edition Mage, except it's not written by hippies with no grasp of rpg rules.
  1. 1. Lawyers, Guns and Money - This is because Alex Able's organization is a good start for your street level investigators to get a lead into the Underground. You can boss the characters around and give them missions to do crazy stuff until they develop their own agendas. It's a good book for getting the players to join something bigger than themselved.
  2. Hush Hush -  Everyone needs someone to hate, right? The Sleepers are great for showing up at weird places, silencing witnesses and if you have them show up and clean the mess the characters have put themselves into, you've got a serious trip going with doubts, debts and murder. 
  3. Weep - Look at that cover. Seriously, look at that cover! Go do an image search and I'll be here when you come back. See? If there's anything more twisted and disturbing than that little girl and her staring eyes, then I don't know what is. This is a scenario collection, and you might wonder why you'd take that to the Island. But, not only are they long and meaty, the book just ooze that feeling of urban decay and desperation, physical and mental, that so defines Unknown Armies.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to say so. Next game, Call of Cthulhu!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sad Independence Day

Let's all take a moment and think back to when the US was not like the Soviet Union, and spied on its own people.

Remember greatness, and reclaim it!

Tomorrow I'll be back with rpg content.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

Savage Worlds - issues with character generation

I was just starting to listen to a podcast, and they were playing Savage Worlds. Ever since I first read the original 40k miniatures rules, I have thought it would make an excellent rpg. Now they have published some, but none of them seems to fulfill the promise that first book hinted at. But, I think Savage Worlds might be the game to do it. I downloaded the cast, and started listening.

Guess what? It sounds like these guys also have some issues with the dice size system for the attributes! They repeatedly ask what they start at, what the max is and how much they get for a point and what they start at. I'm not saying these guys are stupid, and I know for a fact that my players are not. But, oddly enough I hear see another set of players have problems grasping the ideas about the core abilities. In the comments for my last post, Jeff mentioned similar problems in his experience. Peculiar, I say.

Now, why is it so?

When I read the Savage Worlds rules, I thought many things were slightly queer. But, one of the things I found quite simple was how the die size system worked, and how you spent your 5/15 points on abilities and skills. Now I have had three pieces of evidence that what was clear to me it far from it. Is the idea of die sizes that strange? I remember seeing it back in the oddball game Tales from the Floating Vagabond. But, I only remember it rating the size of the guns. Maybe it was all abilities and skills. It was almost 20 years ago. I'm old. Maybe that's why I got it. I'm old and have seen dozens of game systems, and nothing surprises me anymore. Maybe.
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