RPG A Day 2017 August 22

August Twenty Second

(I Keep Hovering About Six Days Behind)

Prompt: Which RPG Is The Easiest For You To Run?

Those I’ve run extensively before. 🙂

At this point, Pathfinder and similar D20 derivatives are in the lead, followed by Hero System… even though it’s been a while since I’ve ran it, I’ve done it so much that it’s fairly instinctive. (Caveat: Haven’t run 6e yet.)

Two things help tremendously:

  • Well-done digital tools for character creation and worldbuilding, especially if they’re good for creating things other than individual PCs. I like custom NPCs and unique monsters, and I like systems which define things in considerable detail. This can mean, in the absence of such tools, being forced to take shortcuts or make approximations in the name of time, which undermines the point of using a high-crunch system in the first place.
  • Players who know the rules. When you’ve got quite literally a half-dozen thick rulebooks filled with character options, it is not possible for the GM to know them all, or their interactions, or their caveats. I should not have to know how your half-dragon paladin/fencer can combine his smite evil, his breath weapon, and his panache abilities in an iterative attack against an evil outsider. You have to know that and be honest about how it works.
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RPG A Day 2017 August 21

August Twenty First

(Five Days Belated)

Prompt: Which RPG Does The Most With The Least Words?

FEWEST words! #Stannis

As my personal preferences run towards massive tomes, this is an odd question. But I have two answers.

First, Og… because it’s all about using very few words.

Second… BESM First Edition. While I consider Second Edition to be one of the best rules-light generic games, I still fell in love with the very slim First Edition, because it was easy to see how, despite the overall paucity of pages, you really could model a large range of characters using it. The creators distilled broad concepts down to their essence and made it clear which options should be considered as “categorical”… “Owns A Big Robot” in 1E could easily be “Owns A Spaceship”, for example.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 20

August Twentieth

(Only Six Days Late!)

Prompt: What Is The Best Source For Out Of Print RPGs?

I do very well at Half Price Books. They usually have a decent selection at reasonable prices. Amazon has darn near anything you can imagine, but the pricing is often crazed. Several years ago, I was in a Vampire: Dark Ages game. I wanted the hardcover splats (High Clans and Low Clans, I think). A seller on Amazon wanted over 100 bucks for each! I found them at Half Price (after the campaign ended, of course), for about 20 each.

Noble Knight Games also has a huge assortment at decent prices. I tend to prefer HPB because I am more of a serendipitous collector — I rarely know what I want/need, so it’s more fun to discover something I didn’t know existed.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 19

August Nineteenth

(Slouching Towards Current)

Prompt: Which RPG Has The Best Writing?


I often get the feeling these questions are aimed at people who don’t need to have their wife maintain a database of their games. If you own a half-dozen or so games, it’s not too hard to pick “the best”. When you own well over 2000 (and that’s RPGs and splats for them, that’s not counting Dragon and Space Gamer and so on), it’s harder. Especially when a lot of the game systems I like include many contributors, some better than others.

What does ‘best’ mean in this context? RPGs are a fascinating beast in the world of writing, as they are both a kind of technical manual (meaning, precision and clarity trump ‘fun’; they are reference works, not novels), and they must inspire imagination and creativity (meaning, they must be anything but dry and technical; each page should sing of limitless possibilities and endless adventures beyond untold horizons).

Depending on how one wishes to weight the multiple factors that go into what makes a good RPG book, I could produce a hundred different “best” books from my collection. So I’m going to weasel a little bit and answer with what I consider one of the true “evergreen” books of roleplaying: The AD&D 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide.

This tome is a thing of beauty and legend. It is a kind of distillation of everything that drew me to the hobby and kept me in it, even though I moved past AD&D pretty early in my gaming career and didn’t rejoin the world of Armor Class and Hit Dice until 3rd edition (and since then, I’ve rarely left it, if you count variants like Pathfinder, D20Modern, or FantasyCraft, and I do).

I majored in English Writing and Programming, back when Programming was not something everyone took and when there were actually few jobs for programmers outside of cranking out COBOL or FOCUS. I have always been drawn to hobbies and activities that required both creativity and logic. RPGs… especially those tipped more towards robust mechanics… gave me the perfect hobby, where half my brain conjures forth wondrous visions and the other half turns them into charts and modifiers.

And the Dungeon Master’s Guide veers madly, page after page, between art and science, between rhyme and reason. Here is a list of modifiers for brawling that includes if someone is, or is not, wearing a nasal helmet, and here is a description of the colored pools of light on the astral plane; here is a chart to tell you how much faster a hobgoblin can dig through rock (in three levels of hardness) than an orc; here are the Eye and Hand of Vecna. The depth and scope of the DMG has rarely been equaled, and the writing style — Gygax at his peak, flaunting his vocabulary and his disdain for “lesser” games and “foolish” house rules — has also never been equaled.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 18

August Eighteenth

(Really Not Catching Up Much)

(But This Is Really Short, So, I Can Get Another One In Today)

Prompt: Which RPG Have You Played The Most In Your Life?

Well, that’s easy: D&D and it’s variants, particularly 3.x and Pathfinder. Second place would be Hero System, third place (played, not ran) would be assorted World of Darkness titles.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 17

August Seventeenth

(Still About As Belated)

Prompt: Which RPG Have You Owned The Longest And Not Played?

Oy. I’ve been collecting RPGs since the late 1970s. At this point, even if I had a team of gamers at my beck and call, I doubt I could play everything I own before I die. One reason I do my walkthroughs is to partially justify my collection.

But the oldest? Back when I started, I was usually able to run things at least once or twice, because I was a kid with very little money and a lot more free time. My rate of game acquisition was much slower. Also, my exact memory of those early years is a bit fuzzy… did I buy Game X before or after Game Y?

I’m going to go with Space Opera. I bought it at GenCon East (there was only one), and while I rolled up a lot of characters and designed a lot of spaceships, I never managed to get together an actual game of it. (But I did get an article out of it!)

By the way, here’s what my purchase looked like. I currently own the boxed set with the new cover. I have no idea how/when I lost the original.

Art by “This Guy I Know”, who was responsible for a lot of late-70s game art.

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Plausible Implausibilities

Plausible Implausibilites

Deviating a little from my usual gaming focus to discuss media… Warning! Spoilers for Game Of Thrones Season 7 Episode 6!

In an interview w/Variety, the producers of AGOT note that there’s a “…thing called plausible impossibilities,”

No, a “plausible implausibility” would be a dragon flight that should take 6 days taking 5… not one that should take 6 days taking a few hours.

Or maybe any ONE of several implausibilities: Gendry, who had never been north of King’s Landing, finding his way to the wall without being lost, frozen, and killed, OR, a raven somehow breaking all speed records to get the message to Daenerys, OR, Daenerys finding the characters in the vast wasteland beyond the wall despite having no knowledge of the terrain or experience with aerial reconnaissance.

All of them together, no, sorry. That it was amazing spectacle and fun to watch and set up a great cliffhanger doesn’t excuse that the writers basically decided on a series of great scenes and didn’t give a damn towards justifying them.

No, I’m not ragequitting the show or anything else. The problems of time and distance have been endemic since the series began; they just keep getting worse as the necessities of TV, vs. books, requires them to keep the cast small. (In the books, GRRM can create new characters at a whim to perform a needed role in the story; the series prefers to recycle characters, so it’s Bronn, not.. uh… some other guy.. who teaches Jamie to fight with his off hand, it’s Sansa, not some random walk-on, who is sold to Bolton, etc. And this season has just ramped it up, from Euron’s perfectly-timed fleet ambush to Jon basically teleporting from Dragonstone to the Wall and vice-versa.

“But there’s DRAGONS! So anything is possible!”

The argument that any supernatural/unrealistic/etc elements in a story means everything is on the table is not only an excuse for poor writing, it’s contemptuous of F/SF… it plays into the cliche that anything that’s not (haughty sniff) LITERATURE is just a bunch of gibberish where all the rules of both physics and characterization can be ignored.

“There’s dragons, so armies don’t need food.”
“Why? Do the dragons catch food for them? Or something?”
“No, it’s just… there’s DRAGONS! Given that, why would you assume people still need to EAT?”

Building on established precedent, extending from what’s been demonstrated, is good writing. Pulling an endless series of miracles out of your ass is not.

Good: Having established the White Walkers can animate humans, we accept they can animate bears. Having been shown they can animate bears, we accept they can animate dragons.

Bad: Having established the White Walkers can animate humans, we don’t accept this means they can evidently summon hundreds of feet of giant chains.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 16

August Sixteenth

(Starting To Maybe Catch Up A Little?)

Prompt: Which RPG Do You Enjoy Using As Is?

Hm. See previous comment. I tend to muck with anything I’m running… and the crunchier it is, the more things I find I want to tinker with. The question implies, but doesn’t explicitly state, that it’s referring to games you play/run regularly… in which case, I can’t really answer. But if I can pick games I’ve only run a few times, but would run again, and don’t see a real need to tamper with… I’ll go with Toon. Sure, there’s barely any rules to speak of, but they perfectly serve the game’s focus of short, wacky, adventures with little to no continuity. (The Tooniversal Tour Guide offered campaign play options… but if I’d run something using those suggestions and guidelines, I’d probably end up fiddling with things.)

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RPG A Day 2017 August 15

August Fifteenth

(Very Slightly Less Belated Than The Last Two)

Prompt: Which RPG Do You Enjoy Adapting The Most?

Well, almost any game I play, I’m going to compulsively create mechanics for. It’s what I do. I build worlds, and I build the rules that define worlds. (Plots, meh, not so much. I’m more George Lucas than J. Michael Straczynski. Just sit back and enjoy the show, folks, and try not to think too hard about it.)

So, again, a tough question, in that it’s a fairly even spread. So I’ll go with Fringeworthy by the late, truly great, and sadly underappreciated Richard Tucholka. The original rules are… uhm… well, they’re… you see… look, it was a different era, OK? Back then, we thought figuring out the density of muscle tissue and bone and organs using a hit location system that resolved down to a few square inches (yes, really) was oodles of fun!

There was a D20 version, because, what wasn’t there a D20 version of, back in the early 2000s, but it… uhm… it was like… erm… look, D20 is more complex to design for than people thought! There’s a lot of implied rules that were never made explicit in the SRD! And hey, he was getting on in years!

So after years of wishing to run a Fringeworthy game, I finally got around to doing it in GURPS… which was a perfect system for it, as it handled the baseline of moderately-gritty semi-realistic alternate history and made it easy to add in all manner of magic, high-tech, psionics, and superpowers.

(Towards the end of his career, Rich started producing rules-free setting books, full of wild imagination, astounding creativity, truly personal and idiosyncratic venues, and a smegload of typographical and layout errors. Much as with Arduin, the sheer force of the creative endeavor overwhelmed weaknesses in mechanics and production values.)


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RPG A Day 2017 August 14

August Fourteenth (As Incredibly Belated As The Last One)

Maybe I Can Do Two Or Three Today And Start Catching Up

Yeah, Right. That’ll Happen.

Prompt: Which RPG Do You Prefer For Open-Ended Play?

In terms of actual play I’ve done a lot lately, Pathfinder. The sheer bulk of official material and the gigatons of third party material means it’s damn near impossible to run out of new aspects to explore. While the core experience is still heavily shaped by D&D 3.5, which in turn was shaped by the particular interests and preferences of Gary Gygax, the rules have proven flexible enough to be refocused on different sub-genres and flavors.

Outside of what I can actually play, GURPS or Hero System. While neither has quite as much support as Pathfinder, they have more robust central engines designed around being able to model a huge range of power levels, themes, and settings. Both contain many “dials” and “switches” in the rules which affect lethality, character power, complexity, and so on. This allows for easy fine-tuning to make the game mechanics reflect the genre and tone you desire.


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