25 September 2019

RPGaDay Day Five: Space

Space. The Final Frontier.  But I've talked at length about the Star Trek RPG(s) in other posts.  The first Space RPG is often said to be Jim Ward's Metamorphosis Alpha, and Traveller followed not long after.  Perhaps space and sci-fi are the second most popular game genres, but I'd have to do some research to confirm that.  
The first thing that pops into my head when I see the prompt for this post is "Space" at the moment is Traveller.  It's an old favorite of mine.  And I came into it in the best possible way- a gift from an adult gamer to a kid.  When my mom's coworkers found out I was into tabletop, books started coming home with her as the more mature gamers fed my hunger for more games.  Traveller appeared in the small box containing the Little Black Books- and tons of supplements.  Traveller blew me away.  What do you mean there are no classes and levels?  What do you mean your PC starts with real world experience, not some fresh-faced 18-year-old?  And you can DIE before character gen is over? 
I was immediately taken with this game.  I loved the Universal Personality Profile- how Traveller expresses the stats of a character in a six character string, with each stat expressed in hexadecimal.  7 is average, so if I was average in everything but, say, DEX, my UPP would be 7A7777, since the second digit is DEX.  You could sum up a character on an index card. The career system, rolling to see what your PC did for a living, for how long, were they successful?  What skills did they learn?  What monies or retirement benefits did they carry away with them?  You sort of had a mathematically-based life story when you were done.  Or you died.  And started over.
Traveller was mostly hard sci-fi.  Jump Drives allowed for limited FTL, rated by how many parsecs could be traveled in a week.  No FTL commo, everything moved at the speed of ships, meaning a sort of galactic pony express existed.  It was easy to lose onesself out in the black.  Many campaigns followed a group of veteran or retired military or paramilitary (Merchant Marines, Scouts) folks with a ship trying to make it running cargo or passengers.  It felt a LOT like Firefly would later feel.
The ship building system lost so many hours for me in Middle School and High School.  I remember watching Lost in Space on USA Network and trying to build Jupiter 2 as a Traveller vessel.  We played out Book 2 ship battles in my living room floor with measuring tapes and protractors.  It was a freaking blast.
The adventures were a lot of fun, too.  Tracking deadly creatures through a doomed lab ship.  Going to a prison world.  Discovering forgotten secrets of a dead civilization.  And the Imperium itself was mostly implied rather than expressly described in the early books- you had starting points, and fleshed things out in your own head.

 So... there are many Space RPGs. But in the case of this writing prompt, the first thing that came to my mind was Traveller. Check it out HERE.

New SWADE Blues

Image result for savage worlds adventure editionSavage Worlds.  I remember taking the first edition of the game for a spin years ago and loving it.  I've kept up with the line since then, enjoying one-offs here and there of the Fast! Furious! Fun! game in multiple genres.  So if I love the game so much, why title this blog post New SWADE Blues?  Well, one, the Elvis pun.  But two, and more importantly- the blues part comes from not having enough time to run about six campaigns using this game system. 

Savage Worlds is a system I've become increasingly fond of over the years because it fills that multi-genre system niche without being GURPSd or BRP or D20.  It handily runs just about any game, but without some of the things that hold other games back from running quickly or cleanly.  GURPS' 1-second turns, Palladium's three mile long skill list, things like that.  Savage Worlds has a short set of attributes and skills backed up by Edges that act as Feats do in D20-based games.  The system uses ratings beginning at d4 and running to d6, d8, d10, d12, d12+1 and so forth.  A d6 is average ability.  Dice "Ace"- sometimes referred to as "exploding" in other games. This means if the die rolls its maximum value, the die is re-rolled and the total added.  This continues as long as the maximum value continues to be rolled.  So a roll of a d8 might result in a 22 if the die comes up 8, 8 and 6.  Rolling 4 or more better than the target number is a "Raise" and represents great success.  And that's sort of it- the basics of the rules. 

Now, add Edges to do anything you might want to add.  Magic, weapon expertise, social skill, linguistic talent, you name it.  The Edges bolt on to the basic die conventions to create an extremely flexible, yet simple, construct.  There's no Hit Points, but would levels determined by rolling damage vs. Toughness, which is a function of an attribute modified by Edges or armor. 

Throw in Bennies, poker chips (or other counters) that allow a player to do a number of fun things to manipulate the game, and the concept of Wild Cards and Extras, and you're ready to rock.  Wild Cards are the important characters of the game- the players and non-players alike.  Extras are orcs, stormtroopers, cops and other background or run-of-the-mill characters.  Extras drop like flies, while Wild Cards are tough and more likely to excel. 

When I introduced SWADE to the Royal Dragoons at our gaming meeting, I asked what genre the players wanted to play.  I got "Fantasy", "Cyberpunk" and "Sci-Fi."  OK, then.  We jumped in and created characters- lo and behold, there was zero issue constructing characters to fit this Shadowrun-esque melting pot of genre.  Even the caster/cyberdeck jocky was a simple build.  We jumped into the game and had no problems with all the moving parts interacting in the game because the system was simple and consistent.  We had to reference things like spells once or twice (and had the help of the Power Cards included in the SWADE Essentials Box) but the game moved swiftly and without much delay.

I remember a halfling assassing parkour-ing off a fire escape to land on an Orc in a dark, wet alley between tenements while spells and guns flashed and fists and feet flew.  It was great to have the battle run so easily with so many separate elements freely mixed.  And it didn't take a truckload of dice to do it- I'm looking at YOU, Shadowrun 6e.

This test run was ruled an unmitigated success by the players, and I've had several requests to run SWADE again, as a one-off or ongoing campaign.  For a group that swears by its 5e and Star Wars D6, it's a pretty fun thing to find a new system people enjoy.  Bonus if it's a system that handles many disparate genres.  I can't wait to run it again- and I have about 20 ideas for campaigns I'd love to run.

SWADE is supported by several campaign settings, notably Savage RIFTS, the new Robotech Macross game, and Savage Worlds standards like The Last Parsec, East Texas University, Weird Wars and more.  Want Weird West?  Try Deadlands.  Space: 1889 for that steampunk itch.  Mix them, match them, SWADE makes it all possible and all good.

Yup, I've got the New SWADE Blues in that I don't have tons of free time to run about a half dozen SWADE games in the near future.

15 August 2019

RPGaDay Day Four: Share

Image result for rpgaday 2019The word of the day for RPGaDay 2019's Day Four is "Share."

I often get asked why I collect multiple copies of a lot of games.  I have eight AD&D First Edition Player's Handbooks.  I have three copies of Robotech II: The Sentinels.  We recently had eight copies of TSR's Marvel Superheroes printed at LuLu, along with some B/X books and some copies of Star Wars REUP. 

Why?  Because sharing is part of the hobby.  Sharing our love of the games and the games themselves.  RPGs are at their best wit a group of players, though solo options do exist.  But more than that, I have a love of sharing the hobby itself.  Bringing new people into the RPG fold, showing them how the games are played and watching them figure it all out for the first time.  Some of my favorite moments in the 33 years a gamer have been teaching someone how to game for the first time.  I've been the first GM for more people than I can count, including some of my best friends, my wife, my kids, the list goes on.  Even total strangers- we go as a group to local events and set up game tables to teach tabletop, and let the participants walk away with Swords & Wizardry Light plus some dice and character cards.  The Royal Dragoon Guards gaming club spends our own money to give these things away for the love of the game.  We want more folks to jump into our hobby.  I know I feel that anyone could enjoy gaming, if they found the right genre of game and the right people to play with.

My multiple copies also become the seeds of further game libraries.  There are a few favorite books I rarely pass up at a used bookstore, even though I already own them.  I score them because it allows me to just hand copies of the core books to a new player and say "Keep them!"  When I found out I had a sister in 2014 at the age of 39, and that she was a teenage gamer, I created a shake-and-bake library of starter books to help her get her own collection started.  Some of my favorites, and games that were important to me in my youth.  Shadowrun and D&D were games whose current versions she already played.  Having extra copies around meant I could share with her the versions upon which I cut my teeth.  The photo below is my sister Carlie's initial seed collection culled from my own library.  This is why I hang onto extra copies of a lot of things- the ability to share.
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08 August 2019

RPGaDAY2019 Day Three: Engage

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This one's easy.  What self-respecting Trek fan can avoid the immediate image of Patrick Stewart in the big chair when that word comes up.  I could talk about how to engage players, or how to engage as a Game Master, but instead I'm going to muse a bit about Trek RPGs.  So assume a standard orbit for a moment and let's talk about playing Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game (FASA)
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"FASA Trek" was my first Trek RPG, and one of the first RPGs I owned.  My Mammaw and Pappaw purchased it for me in 1986. Inside the box was the Cadet's Orientation Sourcebook, the Officer's Manual, and the Game Operations Manual.  I was immediately in love.  In the days before the internet, when all we had was novels and the Franz Josef Star Fleet Technical Manual, FASA Trek was a godsend for fans wanting more.  It used a percentile system, so the math was very straightforward.  The system itself was a little too wargame-like for Star Trek, with a system of maps and squares and Action Points that could have been much simpler, but that didn't bother us.  We had a blast with it.  The adventures written for it were generally amazing.  The sourcebooks were fountains of great background like the John M. Ford material on the Klingons that I still use in my own Trek games over the Biker Vikings from TNG onward.

The starship combat game that was compatible with this RPG was great, as well- to the point of having "consoles" for each player to move cardstock chits around to do their jobs.  Engineers balances power and allocated resources to the helm, weapons, sensors, etc.  The players at those stations then took that power and used it to perform their duties.  It was like the Artemis bridge simulator years before computers made that possible.  I *loved* this version of Star Trek.  It was pretty much all we had aside from novels, fanzines and Star Fleet Battles for my whole childhood.  We had to fill in the blanks, and these books helped us do that.  I love that I've become FB friends with some of the folks who worked on it, especially Blaine Lee Pardoe, who wrote one of my favorite adventure modules (The Strider Incident) *and* the TNG First Year Sourcebook which I mined for all sorts of ideas- like the Bridge Command Specialist.  That concept alone is a fun one to play with, and explains why Geordi, as a Lieutenant (j.g.) is left in command of Enterprise when Picard and Riker are down on Minos, rather than any of the more senior officers.  I only wish the promised Ground Forces Manual would have been published.

Prime Directive (Task Force Games/Amarillo Design Bureau)
Image result for task force games prime directiveThis came out when I was in high school.  It's based on the Star Fleet Universe, a setting created when Task Force Games sub-licensed Trek from Franz Josef, the publishers of the original Star Fleet Technical Manual.  Think of it as Trek if Trek had been written by Tom Clancy.  It's a much more bellicose and martial take on Trek, and there are some limitations to the license- nothing outside the Original Series and Animated Series, limited use of character names, etc.  So what you have is TOS Trek where the Cold War with the Klingons went hot, and became The General War.  There's even an Axis & Allies from Hell style game called Federation & Empire that allows you to play out this scenario.  Prime Directive exists in this version of Trek, and players are assumed to play members of a Prime Team- sort of Star Fleet SEALS, trained for "novel contact" missions, military missions, diplomatic missions, etc.  The idea is to have a team of highly trained personnel to handle dangerous or unusual situations aboard your ship so you're not constantly beaming down your top five senior officers and Ensign Ricky.  The system was interesting, if not entirely smooth, and I really liked the action-oriented Trek setting. 

Modiphius Star Trek
Image result for modiphius star trekI'm really an old-school gamer, but I have to express a certain appreciation for the Modiphius 2d20 system and the Star Trek game that uses it.  It's got a lot of new-fangled game mechanics that futz with the dice- so it's not going to go over well with some of the hardcore Old School crowd, but it lends itself to some amazing storytelling.

I've not gotten to put it through nearly the paces it deserves, but it's been a lot of fun so far, and encourages player creativity in the interpretation of rules, spending of Momentum, etc.  I wanna see where this goes.

Starships & Spacemen 2nd Edition
Image result for starships and spacemen 2eOK, This one is a guilty pleasure.  It's an update by Goblinoid Games of an old title from the 70s that was Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off.  It really feels like Trek D&D.  Classes, levels, saving throws, all that.  You can even brorrow D&D monsters with a tiny bit of tinkering.  It has a whole resource management system for ship travel and combat, and a lot of other cool "almost Trek" elements.  I find it a lot of fun to play on its own merits.  I even printed the character sheets in uniform colors.

Other Trek Games
There are other Star Trek RPGs, to be sure.  GURPS Prime Directive, the Decipher Star Trek RPG, the Last Unicorn Games RPGs, and I'm sure there's one or two I'm forgetting.  But the ones I elaborated on are the ones I have spent the most time playing, and enjoyed for their Trek-goodness.  Why choose only one?  IDIC tells us that infinite diversity in infinite combination is a good thing.  LLAP, folks, grab a Trek RPG and ENGAGE! 

31 July 2019

RPGaDAY2019 Day Two: Unique

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The word for RPGaDAY2019 Day 2 is: Unique.

  Yeah, this one can go in so many directions.  What is unique in gaming?  There are a lot of ideas and systems and concepts and most of them get re-used and copied and altered and mangled.  My friend Ross says good writers borrow, great writers steal.  So, when there are so many variations on rules and genres and game worlds where things are borrowed and adapted from game to game, world to world, what is unique?

Image result for primetime adventures  Thinking on it, I one thing keeps popping up in my head.  It's a little book called Primetime Adventures. The version I own is the one on the left.  The idea behind Primetime Adventures is to tell a story- any story, in any genre- as if it were a TV series.  To this end, there's a very neat mechanic that I have not seen in any other game that I am rather fond of, and have adapted to other RPGs.  The idea is that you lay out your game sessions as a season of a show, with a number of episodes determined by the game master.  Then each character assigns numbers to each episode that reflect the prominence of their character to that episode.  This has two effects- one, the game master focuses on the characters when their high number episodes show up, and two, the character has more cards to play for task resolution in episodes with a higher number.  So, to use a Star Trek: TNG analogy, this is how you get the Data episodes and the Worf episodes- those would be the episodes where the players for Data and Worf had assigned their single maximum number for that season.  In all other episodes they would have lower numbers, and smaller hands of cards for task resolution.

  I found this to be a really neat way to make sure everyone has the spotlight at some point in a game campaign.  It might exist in other games, but the only place I've seen it is in Primetime Adventures.  So, there's my entry for Unique.

29 July 2019

RPGaDAY2019 Day 1: FIRST

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It's funny that this year's RPGaDAY should begin just as we're considering selling our home in Round Rock, TX to move to Cedar Park, TX.  I am known for being a very nostalgic person- particularly when the 80s and gaming are involved.  So when I think First in relation to gaming there's a lot of things that pop immediately to mind that happened in the 80s.  My first exposure to D&D was the Saturday morning cartoon, if you don't count the brief mention at the beginning of E.T.  My first time reading a D&D book was sneaking peeks at the collection of my friend Eric's older brother the year I lived in Florida (1985-86) and then my first actual game during the summer of 1986.  In the fall, I spent my money on the first game I ever bought for myself- Palladium's Robotech RPG.  But in light of thinking of moving, here's a First that has to do with Round Rock, my home town, the place I used to think I would live for the rest of my life.  Raise my kids here.  They'd go to my old middle and high schools.  Now, it seems, there are a lot of reasons that outweigh nostalgia for moving.  But Round Rock will always be the place I consider my hometown, and it will always be the location of so many of my RPG "firsts" in those wonderful years where I had all the time in the world to game before adult concerns took over.

See this home?  Thanks to Google Maps I can share this image.  See the bedroom window on the right hand side of the picture?  Inside that bedroom, late summer 1986, I was handed the Mentzer Expert book to page through while I waited my turn to roll up my first D&D character.  As I've blogged before, the illustration of the cleric casting Speak With Dead caught my eye, and I was hooked.  A few minutes later I rolled up my first Cleric, and my first character of any kind using the Red Box, and I was off.

I had no idea at that moment that the game I was about to play was going to be such a profound experience.  Here I am, 33 years later, and the thing that most people would say defines me is the thing I picked up here, in this home, one summer afternoon with my new friends from Boy Scouts.  This is why I identify so much with the kids from Stranger Things- I was their age.  This was my experience, too.  Just like the kids in E.T. and Cloak & Dagger, I had discovered a new way to express my imagination and bond with my friends.

As a middle-aged parent, I can honestly say I use gaming to teach my kids, my gamer family remain our closest support group and community.  My oldest friends are my gamer friends.  My closest friends are my gamer friends.  This is why I chose the 1980s D&D ampersand for my first tattoo- if you're going to get something permanently inscribed upon your person, it should be something that has deep meaning for you.  D&D saved me from being misunderstood by family and ostracized by schoolmates.  I found my tribe, and they remain my tribe to this day.

So here's to firsts.  And this is where it all began.