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Ian O'Rourke
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14 Days. 14 Long Days.

I'm not actually going anywhere exciting, but having two full weeks off over Christmas is pretty exciting. The issue is filling it with something, as I'll be very annoyed if the whole period goes by and I have absolutely nothing to show for it. I'm not suggesting I should achieve world peace during this 14 days, but I want to say I did something. Have something to show for it, so to speak.

So, what are some of the possibilities?

Play video games. Then play some more video games. I am currently some way through Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Tomb Raider Legend and Blue Dragon. I could dedicate some time to actually finishing some of these. It always feels good when you actually finish a game you've spent 30+ GBP on. I may also invest in Mass Effect, which will become another one on the list. The Xbox 360 isn't really used that much for some time, it would be good to see it get some serious, heavy use. This used to a bit of a tradition, with me playing Tomb Raider I-III on successive Christmas periods with Louise acting as my second pair of eyes. Good times. This is hampered slightly due to conflict over the TV.

Resurrect Thrilling Tales. Resurrect is a bit harsh, as that implies Thrilling Tales should be being played more often than it is, which isn't necessarily the case, as it has to stall Pendragon to run anyway. It does need a kick though, just because I'm out of the habit of paying it creative attention, and I'm also getting a bit distant from it. I know there is gold in the characters and all their inter-related novels but I'm no longer intimately close to it. I am, as an American might say, no longer in the zone. The 14-day holiday could afford me sometime to not only get another instalment hashed out, but also a bit of a broad brush approach to bringing the various strands born out of the aspects to a grand conclusion. I don't mean conclude it, just make sure I have a bit of direction. I like direction.

Kick start a mini-series. I've discussed it in the passed, the concept of mini-series format gaming, since it's the essentially the way I've run most of my 'campaigns' over my gaming life. Since the group no longer has a long-term campaign focus, despite (rather ironically) playing the longest campaign on Earth, with short run (as short as 3 sessions) games springing up left, right and centre it is a good time for a mini-series. This would involve cracking that thorny problem of prepping a mini-series so it is good to go despite not having characters. I'd like to think this is possible. I'm thinking about six episodes long, so that would probably be 6-9 sessions. If this happened it would almost certainly be The Circle, I can't see anything else coming about in that time frame. Possible, you never know.

Fandomlife improvements. I could look at the coding improvements I could make, though I'm not sure at this time how many of those there are without the associated web design changes. This then makes me think I should use the 14-days to try and crack the back of CSS so I can do the design myself. Easier said then done, as that then challenges my graphical abilities, which aren't really up to the job for the look I'm wanting. This would bring a high level of kudos and self achievement. Still, there probably is some room to make some more improvements, and the Christmas period represents and opportunity.

Hit Level 70. Again. Hellaina hit level 65 over the weekend, after playing the World of Warcraft for a couple of hours (the first time for ages). I'd like to get to 70 as it opens up the option of doing the level 70 dungeons, and I have a Priest partner waiting in the wings to join me. This means I only have to find a Tank for each trip. I'm quite looking forward to doing the level 70 dungeons, and hopefully some heroics. I also want a dragon flying mount. Though I do have to get my epic land mount first. Anyway, the short answer is I could play World of Warcraft.

Which one is going to get the nod? Hard to say, chances I'll end up doing a number of them, possibly spending not enough time on any of them. A part of me can't help but think that some two role-playing ideas allow for the doubling of the fun, since I'd have the fun of creating and then the fun of playing. We shall see, my brain usually likes multiple things to focus on, as it allows me to move to other tasks when a hit a problem, or a need bit of space from an idea.

Three busy weeks to go before I have to decide, and the ever present option of eating too much, getting up too late and watching too much TV always exists.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/12/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Doctor Who RPG

Completely out of left field Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd have secured the license to produce a Doctor Who RPG. It's a bit of a surprise as you usually get to hear the jungle drums about such things before they are announced. It also never occurred to me the BBC would have shown any inclination to license the property out into a role-playing game, it being such a small market and all.

Strangely, despite me being a big fan of the new Doctor Who series (and elements of the old one), I don't find myself getting excited about it.

I think the main reason is I can't help but think this will be another case of a great, imaginative and vivid property being shoved into a rather bland and boring role-playing system that strips all that is good out of it. This is what happened to Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, which got lumbered with one of the most bland systems available, and can only be said to emulate the two properties because it doesn't emulate anything and therefore it doesn't get in the way too much. The only game I'm familiar with that Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd have produced is SLA Industries and I purchased that when it originally hit the shelves and I wasn't overly impressed.

The perfect system for Doctor Who always seemed to be a tailored version of Fate 3.0 for me, based on the fact Spirit of the Century running full hilt can actually feel like a new Doctor Who episode (when it's at full steam), it also allows characters to naturally do Doctor Who style stuff via skill declarations. It's also true that characters don't dramatically improve in power.

I'm also not sure Doctor Who is great RPG material, and I know at least one person who will acknowledge the irony in this considering our great 'running a Buffy game' discussions in the past. The series is so much a 'force of nature' based around the personal magnetism and dynamism of the central character a role-playing game duplicating it would be hard, and avoiding it would be the first step to not making it Doctor Who. I'm not saying it can't be done, but the whole set-up just seems less open, and the more open it becomes (members of UNIT, set-ups with no Time Lord and no TARDIS) the less Doctor Who it is. It is a property very much linked to its titular character.

Still, they have the license for the Torchwood RPG as well, which holds much more potential as a role-playing game while maintaining the feel of the property. After all, who doesn't want to hunt aliens in Cardiff and shag everything that moves, even the aliens? Welsh accents optional. Seriously though, a game involving a team of experts investigating strange occurrences in a Spooks meets Angel via the Doctor Who universe set-up has much more potential. I'm not sure it's one for me, but I can see that working and being dramatically sound.

I've ran a number of Star Wars mini-series using Star Wars D6. I've played in numerous emulative Star Trek series using FASA Star Trek. We had our own Buffy spin-off show using the Buffy RPG. Despite all this the Doctor Who RPG is a bit, nothing exciting to see, move along, etc.

Permalink | Comments(2) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/12/2007 Bookmark and Share
Picked It Up And Put It Back Down
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

A week or so ago I went to Newcastle to have a look around, it's probably more true to say Louise wanted to have a look around the shops, and I went with her so I drifted into a few shops. Naturally I went into the two gaming stores in Newcastle, and naturally came out without buying anything.

I did face a temptation though: Star Wars Saga Edition.

I've noted before my weakness for Star Wars role-playing games, due to me liking Star Wars, and due to the original Star Wars D6 game having such a heavily influence on how I approach and run role-playing games. I noted back then I would almost certainly buy it when it came out just because I'm a sucker and I have to buy any Star Wars role-playing game that comes out.

I was tempted this time, as the book does look really good. I like the strange size, allowing for it to be easily thrown in a bag. The production values look good, and has a sort of classy feel. You even here surprisingly good things about the game on the internet, and the negatives tend to be from people who disagree with the philosophy behind the design choices, hence they disagree with the rules. I still didn't buy it though. I managed to put it back on the shelf. It was surprisingly easy to do so. I think there are numerous reasons why this was so simple.

First, despite the fact the game seems to be quite a clever work in a lot of ways, it's still sounds too much like a D20 game, with people talking about character builds, and efficient ways to get different things. You also get the whole 'this is broken' stuff, largely based around certain powers being too weak or useless. It basically all gets to the point were you just can't be arsed with it even before you've purchased the damned thing. There is just a bit too much...stuff.

Second, I just find myself not really in the market for role-playing games these days, Spirit of the Century is the last one I purchased and that was some time ago, and I can't remember what I purchased before that. I don't see anything on the horizon I want to purchase. I considered buying the Ultimate Power book for Mutants and Masterminds but decided it would be pretty useless to me. Last weekend I was considering buying Zorcerer of Zo, but decided that was just a momentary infatuation as well. It's not even as if my purchasing has moved to 'Indie' games, as I can't be arsed with them either.

Strangely, the only exception to this is Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, because if money was no object I'd probably buy more books in that line, despite the fact I already have four books relating to the game. This is quite a high amount as I usually just focus on core books, and I ain't got that many games on my shelves now so four for one game is quite disproportionate. It's even true to old spending in habits in the sense that I'd probably never use the books if I bought them.

Amazingly, this is quite a turn of events, and represents the downward side of a bell curve, possibly even the ultimate trough. There once was a time I was the 'Indie guy', seeking out and buying the games when there wasn't actually that many of them (assuming you could buy them, a lot of them were Free PDF or work in progresses at the time). I remember when seeing Sorcerer on the shelves of a game store was something beyond a miracle. I'd buy new games just to see how they hung together and the joy of reading them. Now, that seems to be the domain of other people, even to the point they are designing their own games. It's safe to say some members of the gaming group are rising to the top of the curve in terms of consuming role-playing product while I'm in my trough. Cycles, always interesting.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/11/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Adventure Game

There was a time, in the dim distant past, when releasing adventures, or scenarios as they came to be called, was big business. Well, possibly not so much big business but certainly more popular than it is now. The various Dungeons and Dragons games have always had a good adventure schedule, resulting in some modules becoming classics. Then you had Call of Cthuhlu, the scenarios for which have become famous. Even Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play got in on the act with the now highly regarded The Enemy Within campaign. It was just the done thing, role-playing games had scenario support to one degree or another. Now they are viewed as a commercial black hole and you don't see many.

A few games still keep up the tradition, of course. Dungeons and Dragons continues to do so, though they way in which these adventures are delivered is much different. There is a market for them though, while the tradition of modules available to buy on store shelves may have dwindled, magazines and on-line resources maintain the service. The RPGA also still exists with their Living Campaigns. As an example, Dungeon magazine did three adventure paths that took characters from 1-20 level, and since the demise of Dungeon the magazine Pathfinder has taken up the torch. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play also seems to be committed to adventures, even to the extent of an on-going campaign being contained with supplements, as well having a good number of free adventures on the Black Industries website. It's safe to say the availability of adventure support for a game is a big thing for some people.

Personally, I think the only published adventure I've run was the one in the back of the Golden Heroes rulebook which kick started a campaign way, way back. A role-playing game without an introductory adventure was a rare thing back in the day.

I've played in a few though.

I think I played The Enemy Within campaign. That is I played one session of The Enemy Within campaign, certainly no more than two. I can't remember anything about it other than it seemed to involve a dramatic escape at the end with us trying to get to a barge to escape via a river. I played in two Golden Heroes scenarios, part of a line of adventures Games Workshop where releasing. I think I played in the first one, which gave you an underwater base at the end, and the sequel which had something to do with Queen Elizabeth being in cold storage or something. I also played one adventure in a boxed set adventure for the Judge Dredd role-playing game. It was a pretty epic affair I think, though we didn't get much into it. I seem to remember it had maps for nuclear missile silos, as later in the grand adventure you had to stop people from setting them off. Memory is vague.

I can actually see the advantage in published adventures, it's the age old argument of time and money. It's also true to say that different people like different elements of role-playing games, and for some people what they get out of playing role-playing games has nothing so much to do with preparing the content, and as such published adventures are fine. I've not had much use for them myself, as I always find myself quite distant from them. I read them and they just feel pretty soulless. I can't really say I've read one and felt the need to play It's interesting seeing the other side of the argument occasionally, with people who seek out good published adventures, and view writing them and obtaining them as a good thing. In a way it would be good to have the same set of priorities, but I don't so I've never really used published adventures and I can't see me ever doing so in a big way.

Of course, the biggest published 'adventure' I've played in is the Pendragon Campaign, and it's also the one I've played the most. Due to me not having a massive Dungeons and Dragons introduction to role-playing games, I missed out on all those classic memories people have of the famous (or infamous) modules.

Permalink | Comments(3) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 10/11/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session 21, 506 A.D

I missed the previous session, which featured the year of 505, when the Saxons got a good kicking. The year 506 is like the lull after the storm, with everyone attempting to deal with everything they'd left behind, take stock and try and replenish resources. It was certainly good to not have one Saxon group or another coming to court suggesting we should pay them tribute.

A number of things happened throughout the year: Sir Merrin had assassins jump him in the streets, and we provided an escort to the Lady of Lake who had business in the Forest Sauvage and we also went monster hunting as a number of the beasts that the Saxons had in their armies were running wild. During the monster hunt, one of the players chose to bring his son rather than his current character, only to have him nearly killed by a giant we encountered, first being hit by a flying cow and then the giant's mace. Sir Guillame also had a grand opening for his monastery and the order of knights he'd set-up. Sir Robert, the boy who will eventually be Earl of Salisbury, is now 18 and he came to ask our sons who is the best knight in Sarum. It seemed that Sir Guillame got the vote.

The year rolled on, our main characters got older, which gets harder every year. A few of us are slowly becoming small, ugly old men with a lot of strength in those withered sinews. I'd be scared of them.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/11/2007 Bookmark and Share
Kicking The System Into Submission

After my disastrous three hours last weekend, when I attempted to dive into Mutants and Masterminds to get a handle on how it played, only to find I couldn't actually put some characters together, I decided to sit back, take a breath, and come back at it later to kick the damned thing into submission. It now lays beaten and bloody at my feet. Do I have total rules mastery of it? No, but then I don't think I've ever had total rules master of any game I've played, even ones I've played for some time. It is enough though.

Interestingly, it all came together through giving the first edition a quick scan. A bit weird that, but I was getting hung up on a few things and it took the first edition, which does them differently, to make me realise the new system was doing exactly the same thing, just under different structures. I now have a few characters I'm playing about with:

  • Soul Paladin: The warrior in armour, personal incarnation of his God along with his Soul Sword (a suitable epic blade of sizeable proportions) which also cuts through armour, capable of burst damage (an energy wave) when he slams it into the ground and healing.
  • Battle Golem: An ancient golem built from magic and technology, as tough as old boots, strong enough to destroy castle walls and capable of firing energy bolts. Immune to numerous things due to being a 'robot'.
  • Water Elemental: A beautiful half water elemental, also a babe, capable of changing her form into water and vapour and firing bolts of water.
  • The Assassin: Agile, quick and capable of teleporting around like a madman and blanketing the area in darkness and lethal with his various blades.

The point of all this being each demonstrated different things I wanted to look at. As an example, the Soul Paladin essentially has most of his powers in a device. The Assassin as well as getting sidetracked with the funky teleporting does a lot of damage with mundane weapons. The Water Elemental powers are often hard to represent in other systems (and I still may not have the best way of doing hers). The other point was to match them in a fight club style to see how the maths played out.

I even have some tables now. Simple ones I hasten to add. Tables which tell me what the statistical distributions are when various forces come up against each other (it largely comes down to the distribution between attack and defence, and damage and toughness saves). Obviously, all these things are controlled by Power Level, but you can trade-off. As an example, all the characters are PL10, but the Battle Golem has a Toughness save of +14 (by virtue of his armoured shell), but this trades off to only +6 on his defence. In short, he ain't that hard to hit for a PL10 character, but he's hard to damage. I don't spend ages on this stuff, half an hour at most, but it's often good to get a feel for how everything hangs together.

The concern from this is the distribution on the D20 die combined with the damage effects (there is no hit points, just a result of the toughness saving throw against the damage). It seems like scoring effects that momentarily make the character very vulnerable is quite likely (a +4 or more advantage on defence aside). This would then suggest to me fights are over very quick? You don't want them taking forever, but you do want them to be long enough to get the juices flowing.

This is the maths. The reality of it in actual play may be different due to the currency system and the way a single D20 works in practice, as each result has equal probability and each roll is mutually exclusive.

This aside, I've also been reminded about some of the good stuff in the game. The main one being the Hero Point mechanics, and how they model the flow of the comic. The heroes earn Hero Points over the course of the story as they suffer various complications (the villain escaping, the love interest causing problems, etc) and thus have more Hero Points for later confrontations. Basically, the sorts of things that would be Aspects on the character sheet, if the system had them, the heroes get Hero Points for when they cause problems for them. You can then use them to do the usual funky stuff, but the best one is the ability to use a power feat you don't have. This means characters don't have to have every thing they can do paid for on their character sheet. This solves the majority of those comic book problems when heroes do things with their powers they never do again or rarely do. As an example, the water elemental above could have not paid for the ability to turn into water vapour and just spent a Hero Point every so often to do that as a power stunt of her power to turn her body into water.

Basically, the lesson I learned on the weekend is it's sometimes best to spend a bit of time acquainting yourself with how everything hangs together before diving back in to experiment with a game you've not cracked open for a while. Mutants and Masterminds is also different to Spirit of the Century in that Spirit of the Century is a game that has easy character creation that is very structured, and is 'hard to master' in actual play (to get the most intense, story-powered results anyway), while Mutants and Masterminds has harder character creation which isn't structured and may actually be easier to master in actual play (amazingly enough).

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/11/2007 Bookmark and Share
It's A Pity That Ideas Need Systems

It really is. Honest, it's completely infuriating, or at least it was for about three hours over the weekend. Basically, I dived into my collection of superhero games over the weekend, as part of a spur of the moment investigation into what system I could use for The Circle. Actually, that's not strictly true, I dived into Mutants and Masterminds and tried to whip a couple of example characters and that lead to me looking into other tomes.

So, let's step back a bit.

All the various jobs that stack up for the weekend complete, and my will to play World of Warcraft over the weekend satiated, I decided, sort of spontaneously, to dig out the Mutants and Masterminds book and knock up a couple of character concepts that would fit into The Circle just to see how it all worked out. I primarily interested in seeing how the game worked when a couple of characters started hitting each other. What a complete disaster, it was just annoying at every turn. Was I just in a bad mood? Did I once understand the Mutants and Masterminds system better? Because when I tried it over the weekend I spent ages going backwards and forwards, not so much getting confused, but more having to go down one route only to travel back along it and take a different road due to 'just realising' how certain rules worked or interacted. It was a pain. It also didn't help that without some effort you're not really sure what all the numbers mean. None of the concepts got completed as I decided it wasn't the best way to spend my time.

Not wanting to admit defeat, but no longer willing to juggle numbers and power points in Mutants and Masterminds I started looking through BESM2 and Silver Age Sentinels. It didn't really help, because while both these systems are simpler in some ways, such as the actual power systems not being as complex, they don't deliver in others. The main problem in the Tri-Stat system is it takes ridiculous few points for a character to be totally impervious to damage by normal means. This is fine if it's what you want, but not all character concepts want to be, but the ridiculous fact that one level of force field makes you immune to all normal weapons (and it ramps up from there) is madness. It just scales badly. It also doesn't help that the whole system has no structure, and like Mutants and Masterminds, the numbers don't have any meaning without some serious checking in the book. BESM2 isn't as bad, and is much simpler, but it's roll under and I positively hate roll under, closed systems and it has a similar scaling problem. It's also true to say the set-up of powers is generally better in Mutants and Masterminds than Tri-Stat.

I even pulled Champions out, but only for five minutes, as that would be true insanity.

The annoying thing about it is I'm still convinced once the character is created the system is very simple and powered by an interesting currency, and it even solves the 'hero pulls something out of the hat he couldn't do before problem' elegantly. I also like the use of power levels to provide some semblance of parity across all the characters and a way to control whether heroes spend their power points to scale up or scale across (as most comic heroes do, gaining width). It also solves the scaling problem, easily allowing for heroes being relatively impervious if they wish, while allowing for other variants to exist alongside them. I was interested in seeing a fight in action though, to see how it played.

It was just too damned frustrating. It may be I've just become unfamiliar with the system and I need to re-engage with it. It could also be that I just can't be arsed with the up front complexity of it. Whatever the reason, the last thing it could be called is fun. The only conclusion I came to is this: it wasn't just the complexity, it was also the lack of structure to the process which really confounded. It could also be I don't have the patience for it any more.

A part of me isn't even sure why I started the exercise in the first place!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 31/10/2007 Bookmark and Share
Searching For The Pulp Mojo

I seem to have completely lost my pulp mojo, at least momentarily. I've not done anything seriously productive with respect to Thrilling Tales since I last mentioned it. What's frustrating about it all is this isn't the usual fade into cancellation problem, I'm still very keen on continuing it, and I even want to press on with it because I do have other things I wouldn't mind doing, but it just never happens. It's just life's amazingly ability to introduce enough banality that at times it's incredibly hard to rise above it.

This then means on the odd couple of hours here or there I do have spare I play World of Warcraft. Is World of Warcraft the problem? I don't think it helps, as it does sort of become 'the thing you do to avoid homework', but it's more that it's an easy activity and that works in the current 'brain drain' environment.

I'm sure it'll come back, it's just annoying as the longer you let it slide the harder it seems to be to resurrect it all. I probably need to find some time to get myself into the pulp medium again. Soak up the mojo of the player characters and push through it. I'll be away for periods of time in a couple of weeks, depending on what goes on in the evenings, that may afford an opportunity.

It was always meant to be an irregular movie sort of format so the pressure is more on myself I guess. I may have to pick some sort of schedule, and work to deadline. Then depending on this schedule decide on whether Thrilling Tales runs alongside anything else I may care to do (which has issues), finishes first, or if running anything else is a delusion.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 26/10/2007 Bookmark and Share
Am I Experiencing The Sim Perspective?

I'm in an interesting, and from my personal perspective, one might say strange, gaming space at the moment. In that in the Pendragon Campaign, my character's story, his essential narrative, has sort of come to a close. I'm not sure it really got to the heart of what I wanted it to be about 100% (note I don't say how I wanted it to happen here), but I was a contributory factor to that, so that's an observation more than anything else. The main point for this discussion is that the narrative has concluded. What makes this a strange and interesting gaming space? Sit back and I'll tell you.

First, it has a lot to do with the whole actors and authors thing, as I'm firmly in the authors camp. Like all players I do a bit of both, but my perspective is very tainted by my authorial perspective. This tends to mean I put more value on the story being authored in the moment than playing character in and off 'itself'. The character is a tool. This is the opposite for some people, they like playing the character, it's acting the part they enjoy, and while they value good story it's something that happens almost by chance. This tends to mean, when a character's story is done, as far as I'm concerned I'm done with the character. This normally isn't a problem, as for some time now I've played relatively short campaigns so the end of the character's narrative and the end of the campaign have been the same thing. In some cases, it's been done a different way, as in the the character's story has been told in seasonal chunks, each with narrative conclusions (like a TV sow). So that's point one.

Second, I usually create a character with a narrative bursting to get out, and the intention is always to make that narrative front and centre and a major influence on the campaign. After all, the character is one of the principle protagonists, so that should be the case. I've even waxed on about this before, even going so far as saying I always pitch for the lead role, even though I recognise every other player is always doing the same thing. Even this is a very authorial perspective, and it links in with the general view that, within reason, the end of that character's narrative (and hopefully all the others) is essentially the end of the campaign. So that's point two.

Now look at Pendragon, a game in which my character's narrative is complete yet the idea is to play out his life until he dies in battle, or due to a disease or becoming so ugly he dies. Then factor in the campaign doesn't end when the character's narrative is over. The campaign doesn't end when the character dies. The campaign goes on, and new characters are created that are the sons of the first one and they are played until similar circumstances arise. The campaign is positively geological in length compared to our usual fair (and aren't we playing to end the simulation of a grander story than our own?). This is a new space for me, and I have to say I am finding it slightly odd to be still playing a character I see as concluded, and facing playing another one in the same campaign.

The question arises: am I experiencing the sim perspective?

Obviously I think I am, otherwise I'd have stopped writing by now. It's this that is the unique gaming space, as I've avoided sim like the plague for ages, and any games that might have ventured into this territory are dim distance memories from my early teenage years. Specific types of sim are fine, such as simulating the structure and narrative of a TV show, or simulating the pulp medium. I'm fine with a sort of narrative simulation. Pendragon does something slightly different. Pendragon attempts to simulate the epic drama, romance and brutality of a type of Arthurian saga - this is a good thing. The trouble is, what it also does is the type of sim I tend to disfavour, the concept of simulating a reality, a history and a setting, as if those elements deserve to exist in their own right. You see, I'm a big fan of the 'no myth of reality' principle, which basically says the only sense of reality that is needed is what the characters can see and experience in order to tell their narrative. Pendragon doesn't do that really, the setting has weight, and even more importantly the tide of 'history' has weight. This is sim.

It's this sim element to the campaign that still throws me, and still causes me problems. At the moment I don't really have any idea what to do with my character since the purpose of his creation has actually concluded. I have another character waiting in the wings, and we are sort of playing both at once, but I have no feel for him, no story which validates his existence. This is because the character has been born out of the sim of the settings, in that the simulation is generational and the son replaces the father. I'm also conscious that at times things happen because history dictates that it does. As an example, the big battles with the Saxons that are approaching (or have happened in a session I missed) are events of history in which we take part, but there is every chance we take part in them in a passive way. We expand our territories with our expeditionary force, but that's a function of the sim part of the game as well, getting extra manors, buying more troops, etc. Even the mechanic of gaining Glory is heavily simulative, and just a tad distracting. It tends to be a something that happens divorced from any real narrative. This creates another unique situation, I fall into playing the campaign relatively impassively put to other campaigns, which is odd for me. It's still interesting, and I'm still enjoying it, but not in the usual way.

It is weird. It's a game that still confuses and confounds as I'm aware that in one moment my thoughts are running along these lines, and then in another I'm expounding on how Pendragon is a true mature game about life itself, so it certainly has its moments.

I am experiencing sim, and that side of the Pendragon experience is still something that throws me slightly, or remains something I don't fully connect with.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 25/10/2007 Bookmark and Share
Organised Play: More D&D MMO Madness

I listened to the latest episode of Fear the Boot today, and it was fascinating. I normally listen to the podcast because it's genuinely funny. This time though, the actual content and main discussion point was really interesting. It was interesting because it covered an area of the role-playing hobby I have very little knowledge of: organised play.

Basically, we are talking about the RPGA and organised campaigns like Living Greyhawk. I've been aware of both of these, but not to the extent that was discussed on Fear the Boot. As an example, I didn't know you could be a qualified RPGA DM. I also didn't know that the Living Campaigns had module writers, though it's obvious when you think about it, and these module writers are volunteers and the people who write good modules gain a certain RPGA fame. I certainly didn't know that there was such a thing as DM ranks and player points for D&D player rewards. Did you know the player reward points you can earn allow you to purchase Campaign Cards which are usable at sanctioned RPGA tables?

Basically, Living Greyhawk sounds like an MMO played at the table.

There are a number of similarities. First, the persistent world works exactly like an MMO. You have hundreds, if not thousands, of players all playing in the same space, doing the same adventures. While in an MMO the same players may do the same quests and the same instanced dungeons, in the tabletop Living Campaign they'll all do the same modules. As a result, you have all these players all with relatively common play experiences, all having done the same heroic things. It has the whole your the hero, along with the thousands who've done the same thing aspect. It even parallels the fluid group model, in that you may do a module (or quest in MMO terms) with one group, but find yourself using the same character with a totally different group for the next adventure. How they resolve having had the same adventure previously, or that two players romanced and bedded the same Princess two adventures ago I have no idea. They even record what adventure you've done so you can't do it again!

Interestingly, the set-up even has the concept of buffs and nerfs, in that the rules framework under which the Living Campaign runs has to consider and integrate rules content as they are published. Since Dungeons and Dragons often operates on the 'rules as content principle', it's already got a lot of parallels with an MMO, the Living Campaign idea brings it even closer. When a source book publishes new rules they have to be scrutinised for the effect on the Living Campaign, this is often at a much slower pace than the publishing cycle. Apparently, this doesn't stop players campaigning for individual rules and concepts to become part of the Living Campaign because they've identified it's very optimal for their character. They are essentially calling for a buff! Why does this remind of the World of Warcraft forums? This is all necessary as the games are supposed to run to the same standard of rules in every single RPGA 4-hour slot.

While I can't say this for sure, I also believe you're allowed to carry the same character through the Living Campaign, and if this is the case then there must be some way of official logging that character so that the player doesn't turn up for a specific adventure with gear added or a level or two mysteriously gained. This is also a bit like an MMO, in that your character sits locked away, and some form of fancy hacking aside doesn't gain power via non-play means. People even talk about their RPGA characters, as they are portable and move around playing in RPGA events. This is a very D&D thing, or I've only encountered it in D&D and Neverwinter Nights, the idea that you create a character, or a set of characters, and then play them. There are people who have a handful of characters that they play, that's what they do. I'd encounter people in Neverwinter Nights who had these handful of characters they'd been playing for years, like an old variety act pulling out the old routines. It was very much an actor stance approach to the whole thing, and performance based. I suspect, and I'm guessing even more here, the RPGA fosters this approach, with people multi-classing to get the XP penalty so they can play their characters for longer. The whole idea of rating players will also foster the need to perform in the most visual way possible, and the whole assembly line nature of rotating players and DM's will result in acting up being prevalent. This isn't an MMO thing for the most part, but I suspect it is a big feature of an MMO if you engage in role-playing in them.

The most fascinating aspect of what I learned today after listening to Fear the Boot and some very lite research, is that D&D, in some circles, is even closer to an MMO than I ever thought, and I thought it had some pretty core similarities in terms of how it's sold. The whole D&D begot the MMO which in turn continues to influence the content and sales model of D&D is more complex than I originally thought.

As an example, the Digital Initiative that is being launched with 4E? When it was mentioned the first thing I thought of was Neverwinter Nights and the website Neverwinter Connections. It had social networking, very robust scheduling across time zones and a whole host of features allowing you to rate a DM and your fellow players. The result of this was exactly the type of play I'm sure the RPGA fosters, people wanting to get up those ranks and doing everything they can to do it. In terms of players, it heavily influenced people to take that 'old variety act' approach and pull out characters they've always played. I can't help but think the Digital Initiative will eventually find a way to schedule games across time zones and with fellow players on the Internet and add rating facilities in an attempt to bring some sort of quality to the experience and matchmaking. It never works, but they'll try anyway.

It was, as they say...interesting. A concept that's not for me, but interesting nevertheless.

Permalink | Comments(3) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 12/10/2007 Bookmark and Share
A Simpler Time
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

As I haunted the web yesterday I came across Labyrinth Lord by Goblinoid Games. Basically, Labyrinth Lord is a re-doing of Basic Dungeons and Dragons, the old game that came in the boxed sets. Labyrinth Lord offers a similar set of rules to the Basic and Expert Set. Not sure if it's an exact match, but it's certainly more than the basic, which only let you get to about level three. Labyrinth Lord has been developed under the OGL, so it's a pretty accurate re-doing, even down to all the spells, the fact each demi-human is a class and have level restrictions, etc. In short, it's what is termed a retro-clone game.

It's very accurate, and after giving it a scan, that's the problem.

The problem I hit is the player characters just have a lack of...stuff. I'm not a system heavy gamer by a long margin. I like things simple and consistent. When it comes to traditional role-playing games my comfort zone sits around systems like the D6 system (from WEG Star Wars), Savage Worlds, Cinematic Unisystem (from Buffy) and Spirit of the Century. All these games have a currency that can be used to enhance the potential of the player character to do cool shit, assuming nothing else like stunts, etc. I'm not someone who likes all the feats, class abilities and whatever else systems like D20 throw into the mix, as that's too many interrelated widgets, at the same time, players having mechanical stuff they can leverage to do cool stuff is great.

The Fighter Class in Labyrinth Lord has literally nothing cool he can do at the system level beyond swing his sword and roll damage. There is nothing to vary one fighter from another. He doesn't have anything like hero or fate points. He can't do cool moves that represent his bad ass status, at least not mechanically. He just rolls to hit. This always seems quite boring when compared to the Magic User who has a host of cool spells to use, that's if he's not first level as then he only gets 1. Then you have the Thief, who has some cool skills (while everyone else has none), but the chances are he'll be completely crap at them until he gets a good number of levels under his belt. So, while the idea of Labyrinth Lord is an excellent one, all the exploration, dungeon delving, kill things and take their stuff action and adventure role-playing, it all seemed a bit boring to me without that player character...stuff. I didn't even need to contemplate stuff like Elves being classes.

The weird thing is, one of the most visceral and visual campaigns I played in was a one with a setting based on a fantasy Celtic society, and it was very exciting. I remember the party making a choice to stand their ground and face a horde of goblins at a lonely ruined fort, and the fight was spectacular, heroic and exciting. All the things this sort of fantasy game is supposed to be. The system was second edition AD&D, and if I remember correctly, beyond a weapon specialisation slot that provided a bit of extra damage fighters couldn't really do much beyond roll to hit in that either. The other classes, beyond the fact demi-humans were no longer a class, weren't that much more different from their Labyrinth Lord counterparts. It didn't seem to matter and it was certainly exciting enough. Making the heroic speech on the wall was still amazing. Defending the breach in the wall was still exciting and tense. Cutting one's way through the battlefield to face the leader was still awesome. A bit of imagination and a colourful description obviously makes rolling those to hit and damage dice exciting enough.

I can even go back to a previous campaign that used the Basic, Expert, Master, etc, boxed sets. The world map for that campaign even used hexes. Remember those? You put little mountains or trees in the hexes to represent the geography of the area. They may have looked pretty basic, but it worked. That campaign ran for quite a while.

I'm also conscious that Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play is an ancient game, yet I still find that perfectly playable. In fact I quite like that game. This is despite the fact the current editions isn't really that different from the original one. Why isn't that too bare bones?

These memories don't make me look at Labyrinth Lord in a different light though. I still see it as not having enough substance. I'm not really sure what that says, beyond time moves on and expectations change...

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/10/2007 Bookmark and Share
Kicking Ass Beyond The Points Of Light

Despite my initial interest in the announcement of the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, I thought by now that the appeal may have worn off. It hasn't though, and the nature of information released so far has just made the game potentially more appealing. It's still early days, but I certainly thought something would have come along by now that would have turned me off the whole idea.

Basically, despite all the group's fascination with creating their own role-playing games, and pushing their hands deep into the Indie game slush pile, I suspect most of them are like me and actually don't see that as a vote against the more traditional games. I'm all for a bit of role-playing, adventure and even levelling up. In fact, in a strange sort of way, my Spirit of the Century experiences have allowed me to realise the appeal of that model, rather than throw it away as something I'm done with.

What's appealing to me at the moment is the whole D&D adventure concept, heroic fantasy and the points of light setting idea. The reason it's a appealing is it's actually something I wanted to do before, but I chose the wrong system for it. Basically, two years ago I wanted to run a game of old school action and adventure, with the odd underground location being visited, and the odd ass being kicked in a setting that had bastions of civilizations largely surrounded by untamed land full of mystery, darkness and ruins. The trouble was I chose the Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play system which wasn't really the system for that. Not sure why I thought it was now, but there you go.

4E looks like it might be the right system, as the default setting assumes a points of light setting, with lonely homesteads, villages and cities being points of light in an unexplored land, with dangerous travel routes, and ancients ruins of civilizations gone by. A bit like Warhammer to be honest. You also have characters who can cut a bit of heroic swagger from the start, and continue to do so due to per encounter abilities accounting for around 70% of a character's power, and the internal balance assuming at least one opponent per character. Hell, it seems the system even allows for 'mook' rules. This is great, as it means interesting and exciting encounters can be set-up knowing what the characters are capable of for each one (as they'll be at 70% power at a minimum). To be honest, while I'm sure it may be very different in application, the discussions on the various blogs of setting out the new encounters sound very much like how you'd set out a Spirit of the Century set piece.

I even like the idea of the 1 to 30 level scale, and scaling the campaign to go with it. It could break down as follows:

  • Heroic (1-10): In the beginning the character are working for a strange organisation that hunts down rare artefacts, tomes and mysterious knowledge that may well be dangerous, or reveal threats to the points of light in the world (or a point of light). It obviously uses heroic adventurers to go and retrieve this stuff and act on anything they find.
  • Paragon (11-20): The character's relationship with that organisation ends or changes (some story element will conclude it), and they strike out on their own, possibly becoming tied to a location of their own, such as the ancient Mages tower and the surrounding homesteads.
  • Epic (21-30): Since the game is allegedly perfectly manageable at these levels (and I do find that dubious), the heroes taking on ancient threats to the world, or beings from beyond time and space. Ideally, the fabric of this stage will come from the previous two!

Obviously it'd be all organic and natural, but it sounds pretty cool to me. This is to be expected as the heroic segment is the Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play campaign, the Paragon segment is more the medieval campaign and the Epic segment is probably broadly like The Circle, setting differences aside.

It'll never happen. Not because of the group, who I suspect would be fine with it, but just because the chances are when the rules are on the page the game won't seem as exciting as the current slow release of information (they are keeping prestiges classes in some way after all, the concept of which just irritates me). There is also the issue, that even with faster levelling, running a campaign, even if it is essentially three campaigns really (in that change the TV series quite significantly way to keep it fresh), for that long is something I've never done. Even if I did do it, running it for that long at the rate I play would take forever!

Still, it is a great idea.

Permalink | Comments(3) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 25/09/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session 19, 504 - 505 A.D

The Pendragon Campaign hiatus ended a couple of weeks ago, but I was getting my picture taken with Kim Possible and the Power Rangers at the time, so I missed it. Still, I returned for session 19, having missed the emotional drama of the previous session. Basically, a love triangle between Sir Aeryn the Younger, Rhiannon the half-fey 'witch' (and sister to three of our character's wives) and Sir Merrin. Aeryn the Younger and Rhiannon love each other, but Sir Merrin has a pact with her father, the King of the Forest Sauvage. As a result, Rhiannon dutifully accepts the loveless union. Obviously, to add spice to it all, both Aeryn and Merrin have children with Rhiannon, Aeryn's son being the character he'll play when old age takes hold of his current character.

Anyway, that was session 18.

Session 19 saw the fog of war descend, in numerous ways. We prosecuted our campaign against Rydychan, as part of our strategy of expanding the lands of Salisbury in order to give us breathing room and a buffer zone against attack. The campaign in Rydychan is being prosecuted on behalf of the widowed Countess, as her lands had fallen into the hands of robber barons. We took the battle all the way to Oxford and then got a bit confused by the stone walls.

Basically, we entered into a classic role-playing conundrum: new rules being introduced from the magic hat. In our heads, we'd taken cities with walls before, both as soldiers in larger armies in 'our youth', and when leading armies. I even remember leading one such attack and rolling a really bad Battle roll and screwing it up totally. As a result, at least in my mind, we took it we'd be able to use our character's skills to prosecute the battle at Oxford. Apparently not, it has a stone wall, which demands the siege skill, and utilises some sort of points system (totalling up defences against siege equipment). In our ignorance, and due to the DM reading the rules on this stuff since we were building stone walls on a lot of our towns and castles, we ended up totally confused by the granite edifice set against us. It was a bit annoying, as while the players may have been confused, the characters would not have been, and they'd have fully understood what was required to take Oxford, or at least understand they didn't have the kills and equipment for it. This is made even more frustrating, since you make the obligatory 'you will fall at our swords' speech to the defenders when they refuse to surrender. Still, we sent a scouting party to London to secure the services of one of the finest siege engineers.

We've also decided to tweak the mass battle system, as while other people understand it a lot better, it confuses the hell out of me. It never seems to be the same twice, and you seem to have to make ridiculous decisions up front that don't seem to represent the fluidity of battle. One key question is both sides decide how many rounds they are going to prosecute the battle for? Don't get that, surely you enter battle and make decisions as you go? Even odder, if your number is shorter than the other guys you retreat from the field even if nothing has been decided. Very strange, unless I'm missing something again. You then have the table of doom, which involves rolling 2D6, the result heavily influencing the battle, but this roll is in no way influenced by any skill rolls you've made in the past (including key Battle rolls which represent your character's skill in mass battles).

It was a bit of a confusing evening, especially since it was a session dominated by mass battles. After taking the whole of Rydychan, and dividing it up (though Aeryn the Younger chose to marry the older Countess and thus 'got' Oxford), we did the winter phase and moved straight into year 505 and had the first skirmishes with the Saxons. I am told that 505 has the mother of all battles against the Saxon hordes.

Personally, I don't care, as long as we get to kick that annoying bastard out of the lands to the south of Salisbury. We also need to do something to stop these mass battles turning into the relatively banal rolling of dice. They should be full of passion, noise and blood, they should have a whole 13th Warrior thing going on, with load music and screams. It's a thorny one.

Not only that, we now effectively have two characters not just one. While we are still playing our older knights, some of who are seriously fighting the tide of age, our oldest sons now have character sheets. I thought this was a one off affair, but apparently the squires fought in the battle in the courtyard at Rhiannon's wedding in session 18, and we are doing the winter phase for them as well as our older characters when it comes around. I'm not sure that fully works for me, though I'm not sure why. I suspect it's because it adds to the book keeping, two characters, lands, armies, tracking glory and no doubt some other stuff I've forgotten.

Permalink | Comments(2) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/09/2007 Bookmark and Share
It Isn't Just a Pick-up Game

I don't like the fact that Spirit of the Century advertises itself as a pick-up game, because I don't think it is just a pick-up game. Can it be used to bring mature characters to the table, and deliver a grand one-shot that is interesting and relevant to the characters? Yes. All this means is the game can be used for a great one-shot game. This is a good thing. The trouble is the pick-up game moniker is translated by many people way too stringently (and I've encountered it way too much in the last 2-3 weeks).

I will admit that Spirit of the Century isn't a game you'd play in the traditional model week in week out for a long time with no end in sight. I realise a long time is a relative term, and this is inherently were some of the debate is, but I think most people understand what I mean by the traditional gaming model. Those games that have 50+ sessions behind them and have run for ages with ever advancing characters. It's not good for this, I admit that. The main reason it isn't good for this is that type of game tends to be based on a character advancement model, and Spirit of the Century characters start at the top of the food chain with little room to advance in power even further.

The reason I don't like the pick-up game tag is it seems to leave in the mind the lingering idea it's not good for an on-going campaign of any sort, just a 1 or 2 session affair. I think Spirit of the Century works fine for two critical models of play:

  • A series of high-impact films. The number of films can be well into double figures. These tend to be run haphazardly or quite far apart (another relative measure, I realise).
  • A TV series model, easily being capable of say doing three series of 12 episodes each. A higher episode count would be fine, but I'm trying to give specific examples. The assumption here is a regular session is taking place, say every week or two weeks.

The main reason people have given for Spirit of the Century not being suitable for on-going campaigns is the lack of a serious character advancement model. This is true, if your concept demands the advancement model, and some clearly do, then Spirit of the Century ain't for you. It's not necessary to have character advancement in either of the above models though, it's just a choice. Pulp is a good example, you want your character to be Doc Savage, not Doc Savage in eight months time. As long as your system has methods in place to track character change then that is what is needed. As the movies progress maybe certain issues (represented by Aspects in the case of Spirit of the Century) get changed. You could even do this with the TV series model, as in a lot of TV series characters don't significantly grow in power, what happens is the relationships, who they are and the issues they are dealing with change. This is modelled in Spirit of the Century by resolving and enabling new Aspects.

The other item that gets raised is the Aspects would eventually get tedious, repetitive or cheesy. I don't get this at all, as this seems to be a strange reaction to them being written on the sheet. When people are playing a protagonist in a role-playing game that doesn't list these flags on the character sheet you can bet they are still playing to them (they're just not written down). They will have things they do, decisions they make, issues they are dealing with and the way they present themselves in more physical scenes that are a constant across many episodes, even the life of the character. It's why they are playing him after all.

There are Aspects that will always be present, without which you might as well change characters (true for any game), but there are ones that can radically change. If the scientist trying to 'Enlighten Mankind' gets bored of playing that then that's not an Aspect problem, or a limiting factor on Spirit of the Century, it just means the Aspect gets changed to something else to represent his lost hope, for example (after an appropriate defining story chronicling the moment he looses hope). An aspect may change while still remaining on the sheet, such as an organisation the character works for becoming an enemy Aspect instead of a supporting organisation he has an obligation to. In short, exactly what would happen in any game, the only difference is the mechanically usable factor remains in play (as well as the flag to everyone else the character has changed: please compel it and further my new story).

The perception that Aspects are limiting just doesn't make any sense to me.

A good comparison I would make is with Primetime Adventures. Would anyone argue that you couldn't do three full seasons of Primetime Adventures? Or possible four? I don't think they would, as long as it was understood that a character's Issue could change over the course of the seasons. This is how TV shows work, so there is no reason to believe character interaction, the pushing of conflicts, and the freedom to change a resolved Issue wouldn't allow for PTA to run over three or more seasons. The exact same thing is true of Spirit of the Century, have exciting adventures, have characters that conflict and form friendships and engage with dangerous foes (who they also have relationships with), and understand that Aspects will change. It's no different. On this basis Spirit of the Century is fine for on-going campaigns. The old type that ran for years with no end in sight? No, but many people don't play those now anyway, at least not exclusively.

It's also worth keeping in mind that Spirit of the Century is only one incarnation of FATE 3.0, I suspect other incarnations may not put the characters at the top of the food chain, and as a result an increased level of character advancement would be possible (if still relatively flat compared to other games).

All this doesn't mean longer-term campaign games (all relative again) with significant character advancement aren't a good thing, as variety is the spice of life, just look at the Pendragon Campaign, but I still believe the potential of Spirit of the Century is much bigger than a one-shot.

Permalink | Comments(4) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/09/2007 Bookmark and Share
A Bit Of Novel Conversion

Now the gaming lull looks like it's coming to an end, something that always hits the gaming group during the summer (holidays, etc), I am going to start re-tooling my mind to Thrilling Tales. As I've explained before, when the gaming energy drops within the group, it drops personally as well and generally shuts down. It may continue, simmering a long in the background, but not in a way that produces sessions. I sense the gaming cauldron is potentially bubbling again, and thus like the Great Lidless Eye of Sauron, my mind moves ponderously to gaming again.

One of the key ideas that was formed during my slow, simmering summer was the idea that the next instalment would be based on an existing novel. This is interesting because I've not done this for ages. In fact, I had big trouble remembering the last time I did it, I had to poke around in the dark caves of my memory for some time. I was running a Star Trek mini-series, as a spin-off to the main Star Trek: USS Endeavour series that was on-going, and it was about the crew of a remote research station, and I adapted the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel The Children of Hamlin. Actually, thinking about it now, I believe I adapted the novel Spartacus as well. I guess I got a lot of mileage from those spin-off books.

What's interesting about taking a novel and turning it into an idea for a gaming session is you tend to have three choices: relationship map, event-based or locational set pieces or all three.. What you end up using depends on the original material, of course. The two Star Trek novels I adapted were very much event based, with events happening and the players responding. Mystery novels tend to gravitate towards the relationship map and commercial fiction sits more towards the locational set piece end of the spectrum. You can always have your relationship map littered with events as well, of course. That's not a comprehensive picture of the situation, but a bit of a snapshot.

While I'm not going to name the novel I'm taking ideas from, it's safe to say it's a piece of big, brash and over the top commercial fiction and sits pretty much in the locational set-piece category. The locations are grand and fantastic and each of them merges an immediate goal with immediate action. In fact, it's set pieces are pretty spectacular and capturing those is going to be the elusive magic of the situation. At the moment I have the relevant sequences in the book marked, and I'm going to give them a third or fourth reading so I can strip away the scripted elements and distil it down to the essential situation, geography and jeopardy. I probably then need to map that out a bit into zones, barriers and the like and let the pulp awesome manifest. The book also has a contemporary setting, so I need to account for the 1930's factor.

All this doesn't mean the old relationship map option isn't being used, it is, it just isn't necessarily being used to directly represent anything specifically from the book. The task I will face is layering the relationship map that now exists for the pulp heroes and the campaign itself over the material for the session to give it that extra spark and zest.

Possibly a job for after the holiday. I'd take the book on holiday if it wasn't a damned hard back.

Permalink | Comments(2) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Bring 4th The Adventure

I have a soft spot for Dungeons and Dragons, this is driven by experiences I've had in the past, and the fact that, in this day and age, I'm just up for enjoying all that exists on the rich and varied gaming menu we now have available to us. On this basis a bit of adventure, monster bashing, role-playing and levelling up can be fun (we even enjoyed some high level D&D at CottageCon). On the past experiences front, some of the best campaigns I've been involved in have used D&D: one of my earliest campaigns used Basic Dungeons and Dragons, another was a grand Celtic campaign using Dungeons and Dragons 2E and then we have the first campaign of the current role-playing group which was in 3E. So, good times have been had. The fact these experiences have been few and good, and I've not had the years of bad D&D games that have crushed the spirit and soul of others, does influence my view.

It's early days, but what I'm hearing about 4E at the moment sounds great. The designers seem to be willing to throw out some real sacred cows in the interest of making a better game, which may well be simpler, and yet more flexible and more exciting. I could list all the changes they've mentioned here, but it's quite a list and other sites are doing it better, but they are fantastic changes. It's stuff like per encounter abilities, and ensuring that the Mage always has spells to cast rather than always running out and pulling out a crossbow he can hit nothing with. I like the reduced classes, the flexible talents, the new level progression. The reduction in the need to rely on magic items, replacing them with cool level scaling abilities. It all sounds great in theory. The aim seems to be for every encounter to be exciting, with cool abilities to use every time, thus upping the adventure factor. If the whole thing can be more exciting, while not being as anally retentive or as complex, I may sample what they have to offer. As a game that consists of three core books that you can go away and use and play it sounds like it could be pretty damned good. Time will tell.

The more interesting element is the whole Dungeons and Dragons Insider (DDI) issue, which is an attempt to do two things: introduce an on-line element to the D&D experience, and also secure a subscription revenue for Wizards of the Coast. Basically, DDI is an experiment in combining a social network site, with on-line versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazine, a host of electronic support tools as well as the ability to run tabletop games over the web. While this all costs 10 USD, it's probably pretty much worth it for the on-line versions of Dragon and Dungeon. I must admit, having been part of the Neverwinter Nights community, and experienced Neverwinter Connections, this doesn't sound like a half bad idea in theory, especially if they also have robust scheduling tools to allow people to diary and schedule games with other DDI members and then move to the on-line tools for the play experience. It could be a valid medium for playing, allowing for virtual groups, or tabletop groups to use the on-line experience for more flexible scheduling (sometimes it's easier to game if you don't have to go out). It is very early days though, and a lot of questions remain, but it's certainly something interesting to watch even if it fails.

The whole hoopla over the next 9 months is going to be fascinating. You are going to have the game revealed bit by bit. You're going to have rabid gamers debating each and every drip feed. You're going to have 3E grognards as well 2E and 1E grognards and that in itself is fascinating. The best bit? Everyone's favourite flashback to 1982, Fear the Boot, is going to be something you just have to listen to through this whole process as I'm sure it will be funny for one reason or another.

Personally, I'm actually interested in seeing if 4E turns Dungeons and Dragons into a game I'd actually enjoy running, as it's entirely possible I'll be ready for a change of pace, and some fantasy adventure with a bit of levelling thrown in for the bargain by the time the books come out.

Interesting times.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 17/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Superheroes Michael Bay Style

A while back I briefly discussed Nova!, it's only had one post so far and it was a brief, and not that complete idea of what I'd like it to be. Indeed, it was really spurred on by the fact I've always wanted to re-visit the idea of running a superhero campaign, due to a Golden Heroes campaign being first campaign I ran that really worked, as well as my love of commercial fiction and a few websites I'd visited at the time. It never went beyond that, until now.

So, I watched Transformers and I liked it. As I was walking away from the cinema, and coming down from the sheer spectacle of it all, I eventually had one thought, well, probably several thoughts, but this one stuck: replace the Transformers with superheroes. I don't mean literally and directly in the same movie, but keep the overall sense of grand drama, the visual spectacle, the grand sound track, the titanic scenery destroying battles in the street but do it with superheroes. I see the unstoppable Black Sun (a classic Golden Heroes villain, the equavalent of The Hulk I guess) appearing out of a warp hole above a major city and proceeding to take it apart. I see him clapping his hands together with such force that it causes an air burst, complete with the cool special effect, lifting cars and people in an orgy of destruction. Then I see heroes from the Archer Foundation (good enough name for now), turning up to have a titanic, Transformers-style battle. Basically, a Michael Bay superhero film. Possibly a bit more drama thrown in, but you get the idea.

This has probably been done in the comics already, as they've done pretty much everything if you look hard enough. The idea of a big Hollywood take on superheroes can be found in the Ultimates line, The Authority and Planetary and those are just the ones a total novice can name. I'd throw in a lot of stuff from the Aberrant role-playing game as well, especially the idea that the superheroes are essentially popular culture icons and celebrities. In many ways Nova! Is Aberrant re-envisioned to be a bit more like Ultimates, which has more standard comic book sensibilities than Aberrant.

A series of Michael Bay superhero films: explosive, large scale action, global politics, out of control technology, mysterious prophecies, global celebrity, N! Channel and heroes standing up to be counted.

Ruminating, keeping it in the background along with The Circle.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 13/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Can You Re-Visit Old Campaigns?

This isn't something I've put much thought into, as it's never really come up as an issue. I think the reason it hasn't come up in my role-playing experiences so far is there is two aspects to this: re-visiting whole concepts and re-visiting the campaign world. In my mind these are not the same thing, though they can be synonymous for a lot of people. In my experiences so far, I've not overly re-visited anything, concept or campaign world. I've done something and moved on, and I don't really remember anything significantly setting heavy.

So, why ask the question now?

Well, it was something that was said after creating the characters for Thrilling Tales. Basically, the idea was put forward that it was a pity that the role-playing group would play Spirit of the Century once and then put it to one side. What was meant by this is we'd probably play Thrilling Tales (the name of the campaign), and engage with the pulp genre with such gusto, enthusiasm and energy that we'd burn up the idea to such an extent we'd not visit it again. Since Spirit of the Century is a pulp system, that would mean not using Spirit of the Century again. It's easy to see this as a negative, but it isn't. I can see this happening already, the characters are so good, and cover so many of the pulp bases, and I hope the game will be of such a scale, that trying to re-visit it would be prone to failure. The reason being it was that good, no one would want to for fear of creating a cheap interpretation. So, we'd not use Spirit of the Century for a pulp game again, though we might use it for something else (including new Pulsars and Privateers instalments).

That sounds like bragging, and that isn't the intention. First, if the Thrilling Tales concept does burn so brightly that doing a 1930's adventure pulp game again would feel second rate, it's because of a group effort not just me. Second, it's not as if it hasn't already happened, as the Crescent Sea campaign worked the same way, to such an extent that, I believe, any campaigns in the same setting have felt weaker, and pretty much faded out of existence due to not exactly being satisfying. We tried it, it didn't work. Is that Crescent Sea effect due to other factors? Or is a large part of it because we've burned through the idea so brightly, that anything else in the setting (in this case) seems to burn half as bright?

So, the answer is no then?

Obviously not, as many groups re-visit campaigns worlds all the time. In fact, I'd say the typical mode of play is to have relatively few campaign worlds that play host to all concepts and games. This is the example set by people who play lots of World of Darkness campaigns, or use Greyhawk for all their Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. You will also get role-playing groups who will play high fantasy campaign after high fantasy campaign.

On a more personal level though, I'll have to deal with re-visiting old campaign settings differently to re-visiting old concepts. In terms of re-visiting old campaign settings, I don't really put much thought into it, as I'm not a settings person. I don't see settings as valuable, I only see them as a tool to enable the concept and then I'm perfectly happy with no effort being put into establishing a sense of reality outside the boundaries of the character's perceptions. So I can re-visit campaign settings fine in so much as I expect them to exist, as long as the concept of the campaign is sound. It's not an issue, largely because I don't see setting as an issue. This extreme focus on concept does explain the 'use it and burn it' approach from my perspective, as you're less likely to repeat a concept than repeat a setting.

In terms of re-visiting campaign concepts, well, that comes down to whether I think the concept was over, finished and concluded. If it was, I'm probably of the mind that re-visiting it would produce something second rate. As an example, doing Crescent Sea II, in the form of another epic fantasy campaign to stop another epic evil, even with different characters probably wouldn't work for me. I think it would have trouble competing with the original. This isn't to say a different concept in the same campaign wouldn't work, I'd love that, and I was the biggest advocate of the second Crescent Sea game being set thousands of years before the first one and not being about the same issues at all (and you could argue in many ways the historical setting made the campaign setting 'different' rather than the 'same').

As for the Slaying Days campaign, I view this differently, as I don't think that was over, finished or concluded. As a result, I'm perfectly fine with picking up that concept and going with it wholesale. True, we may change things around the edges, to reflect the natural progression of the story, but my character's story in that wasn't concluded, so I don't think the concept was. It had its beginning and middle but sort of missed out the ending. I know my opinion on this isn't held by everyone involved, and each person will have different reasons for their view.

Pulsars and Privateers? Well, that got cancelled Firefly style, so that whole host of mileage in it, several seasons worth, that didn't get consumed.

To be honest, if it is true that the role-playing group plays with such passion and energy, and consumes concepts and settings with gusto, that each one only gets played once, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. At the same time, for me, the rules of re-visiting work on the same principle as any other dramatic medium: Was the idea done? Or is it sufficiently different in concept, theme and characters that it's something new even if a core of the trappings, say setting, are the same?

Permalink | Comments(4) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 12/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Podcasts At Different Ends

So, I've listened to a whole host of Sons of Kryos podcasts, and a handful of Fear the Boot podcasts, and the most interesting thing about the both of them, is how much they differ. It's interesting because they are at totally different ends of the spectrum.

You have Sons of Kryos who will play pretty much anything and view gaming as an adventure in itself. It's all good. As I said when I first started listening to the podcast, it has an aspirational feel. They tend to have a view on gaming very similar to our gaming group. They also discuss and take role-playing seriously with the aim of making the actual play better. It's funny, but in the context of self-improvement and role-playing being a great and fantastic thing. For the Sons of Kryos, gaming is a rich and varied menu and it is all there to be tasted, tested and enjoyed.

Then you have Fear the Boot, which is totally different. They speak about all the sorts of topics in strange ways, such as the 'player driven games' topic, which sounded like it had come fresh from 1982 (as is the gaming language they use). The people behind the podcost quite openly admit they copyright dates on their games are all in the mid-90's or earlier (and those are the scary new ones). They talk about weighty topics like deciding to update your game rules when the gaming group has 'made a big investment'. Their humour is also much more geek-based. The podcast is interesting, and very funny, and I'm not laughing at them, I am laughing with them, but their 'world view' and hot topics are quite alien.

Okay, I will admit I laugh at them when they talk about things like creating a Harry Potter RPG and the only frames of reference they have is classes, D&D and at a stretch the original World of Darkness - or even Battletech. Or the guy who decided to grow his gaming at a convention by playing the FASA Star Trek battle game. Funny.

I intend to keep listening to both, but I'll admit that I'm listening to Fear the Boot largely because I find it a fascinating window into a part of 'role-playing culture' I've never overly encountered, apart from trying avoid them when I was into Neverwinter Nights, or understand (though people who have been in my groups have been). Lucky me I guess.

It's also kind of funny how Fear the Boot seem to have got into trouble regarding their comments surrounding 'voting from different IP ranges' for the ENNIE awards. Though I'm not sure what the details are, but they did make jokes about casting votes from vast ranges of IP addresses. Personally, I'm not putting a value judgement on any of that, but I did find it funny when they discussed it.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 09/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Am I A Power Gamer?

This is an interesting question, personally because I think the term is becoming all but useless in modern times (other than as an insult), along with crap phrases like roll-play and role-play. It belongs to that period when role-playing games were just making steps to come out of their war game roots in the early eighties and people needed ways to denigrate those who didn't 'move on', and insisted on playing powerful characters and using the rules to their advantage, rather than playing an asthmatic, wheelchair-bound investigator of the occult with a wife he'd only just lost and a daughter who urgently needed a kidney transplant that he didn't have the money for (and had a 20-page background to prove it). Yeah, I'm exaggerating, but then in a lot of cases, the use of the terms mentioned was often damaging rather than helpful, and in truth you have a whole scale of options, not just a positive and negative, binary label.

I make skilled, accomplished and powerful characters. I admit it, and I have no qualms about it. The reason I do this is I don't see or understand the weak equals more dramatic model at all. In fact, I tend to make powerful and accomplished characters largely because I'm modelling my protagonist on the types of characters I see and enjoy in the types of fiction I like. I like commercial fiction and genre TV shows, and invariably they are full of accomplished characters. If you look at commercial fiction, which largely build their story roughly around the mythical model to one degree or another, all the characters are not only extremely skilled, they all operate at maximum capacity. Indeed, I believe all characters in most fiction operate at maximum capacity. If you are a spy, you're a brilliant spy. If you're a scientist you're an astounding scientist. If you're an assassin, you're one of the most renowned. If I'm a Wizard I'm one of the best, or the prodigious student to one of the most powerful in the land. It's not necessarily about combat, the character may well be a broker at the stock market, but you can be sure he's a brilliant stock market broker. Not only that, when the mercenaries working for the bad guys behind the international finance conspiracy come a calling and have him cornered in the skyscraper, he will manage to get out. Why? Because even though he's not military trained he is operating at maximum capacity, so he knows the building, uses the fact he's a maths prodigy to do something fancy with the security systems or whatever. So, accomplished, skilled and effective characters operating at maximum capacity who aren't intended (ideally) to sink into the background. I will admit this often means my characters are good at combat, but this is usually because we do play action and adventure genres.

I always want to play a character who is top billing. It may be top billing in the sense that it is an ensemble show, but I still want to be up there at the top. Let's take a few examples, if it was a Star Trek campaign, the chances are I'd want to be the Captain or the First Officer. If it was a Buffy campaign, I'd want to be the Buffy, Faith or Angel equivalent, the hero of the piece, I'd not want to be one of the characters supporting the hero in their endeavour. If the campaign was Harry Potter, I'd want my character to be Harry Potter or at least Harmoine Granger, I certainly wouldn't want to be Ron. I design my characters on this principle, which fits into them being skilled and accomplished, and hopefully working at maximum capacity. What is also important, is this also links into how I approach them dramatically, as each character I create will be created with an intended story, or stories, in mind. I do this on the basis that they are the top billed character for the show, I don't necessarily diminish the high concept because other people are involved. I will seek at all costs to link my character with others, and ideally explore my character's story in a way that connects with other player characters so I can use mine to explore and further develop that of others (and they can do the same in reverse), but I hope to aggressively pursue my character's story. I want it to be a collaborative process with other players, as that's the most interesting way to do it, but failing that I'll do it with with the GM to get what I want.

This also links into the fact I don't do supporting cast. I don't do comedy sidekick. I certainly don't play characters under four feet tall. In fact, I don't do short.

When it comes to the rules, I'll admit I'll make decisions to ensure that my character is reflected in the rules accurately, allowing them to do everything that was intended in the concept. As an example, my Pulsars and Privateers character is an interpretation of a variation of the Jedi, instead of her being a mystical warrior, with a sword, in a world in which he can make a difference, she's a mystical warrior, with a gun, and she believes she can make a difference (indeed, she believes she has a destiny to do so). She is very good in hand-to-hand combat, and is a gun-slinger of renown, all of which is reflected in the system as are her relatively subtle mystical powers. She's modelled on strong, accomplished characters like Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars and Aeryn Sun of Farscape. Now, this is tempered by the fact this is all part of her dramatic story, it's essential that she is this as it is intrinsically linked to her heroic journey, to master her powers, overthrow the corrupt leaders of her 'clan', or dramatically fail doing so (and numerous things exist to get in her way).

Personally, I don't believe I'm a power gamer, I like to think I'm someone who just creates kick ass characters who are strong, accomplished and skilled, but also a great protagonist in a dramatic sense, with a story or stories ready and waiting to be carried to a conclusion. At the same time, I could see how someone looking from the outside might think otherwise. After all, you'll never find me playing the part that would be played by the idiosyncratic character actor, as I'd be too busy gunning for the main hero of the piece. I create high concept characters, with a grand tale to tell, and I base them on a grand commercial fiction model.

The reason: simply because as an author, that's the type of story I'd want to write.

Permalink | Comments(9) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Network Has Picked It Up? Now What?

So, Thrilling Tales has had it's 'pilot' so to speak, and it's first three-part mini-series has been completed. All went well and the network has picked it up so now we have to move forward on the basis of Thrilling Tales being an on-going thing. I've been on a role-playing low for about 2-3 weeks, but things have been simmering along in the background, and sometimes this produces the best results.

Let's start with what has been established and achieved so far.

A Successful First Shot

I think The Eternity Crystal and The Battle for the Hollow Earth set things up well. It could always go better, and we'll deal with some of them later, but a number of key things got established that give the game a good basis on which to move forward. In an attempt to summarise:

  • Strong, visual protagonists that immediately entered the game defining themselves in both the dramatic and the cinematic scenes (though ideally I'd like there to be not much difference). This was good.
  • The ability for the system generally, and the aspects specifically, combined with the players to bring on the Pulp awesome. Why have a battle with Nazis in the desert when you can have a battle with a tank coming over the hill? Why have a desperate fight with a killer Battle Golem when it can be battle with a killer Battle Golem in a lift that's plummeting to it's own destruction? Good stuff.
  • The system meets a sweet spot with the group between crunch, while still being dramatically focused rather than 'realism focused', and bringing the drama to the table through aspects in numerous ways. This can produce great, tense or exciting scenes in which the system adds rather than detracts, when done right.
  • The style of the game, with each story intended to be an exciting, pulp genre event movie is one we all like.

I think a few things were also discovered that need to be monitored and improved:

  • One of the player characters probably had a slightly less beneficial start than the other four, for various reasons.
  • We have fallen into the trap of using the aspects to bring on the pulp awesome, which is good, while neglecting as players to use them to bring on the great dramatic conflict.
  • Due to the way the system works, in that you enter the session expecting the aspects to bring some of the awesome on the fly, if everyone isn't on the ball it can fall a bit flat.
  • Due to the lack of any sort of character advancement, though this may change slightly (but not significantly), it's important to allow the big pay off scenes to happen (obviously, and ending the game before the big Hollow Earth celebration was a stupid mistake).
  • I can't help but feel social conflicts could be used better, but the right scene hasn't come up and their length is a bit off putting I think.
  • Use more of the characters skills, they have them on the character sheet for a reason (especially when you consider they are largely excuses for coolness in Spirit of the Century).

Those are just observations, and are things the group can keep in mind as we move on. It's all good. I'll also mention a few of these things again as I discuss moving forward.

Next Time On Thrilling Tales!

As I said at the beginning, sometimes a low simmering of thought is better than a great attempt to solve something, and this has certainly proven true over the last 2-3 weeks, which has allowed me to come up with a good dose of overall stuff that will serve me well. I don't mean the next five plots planned out, more a general theme and direction.

The main thing that has formed over the weeks is an interesting dynamic that means I'm no longer dealing with five strong, individual pulp heroes with nothing connecting them other than a thirst for adventure and to give the nefarious bad guys a good kicking (and above and beyond novel connections). There is framework for them now, and they fit together and five such individuals coming together now means something, and that has potential conflict and future plot trigger potential, raises dramatic issues, and even more importantly, all that comes as a result of the aspects and as a result the flags the players sent out. Basically, I have three of the characters on diagrammatically opposite ends of a triangle, with one in the centre, and then a fifth is a free roamer. What does the triangle represent? Well, that would be telling, but it is going to give an overall theme to things. What is more interesting about these connections is it also starts to bind some of the villains together, and potentially makes things stronger than the sum of their parts, and the parts were pretty awesome in the first place. It's very exciting. I think so anyway.

In short, the protagonists and their associated villains are starting to take form on an overall relationship map in my head. Essentially, I'm mythologising it, at least one of the group probably knew this was inevitable, as I can't help it.

This is also part of my recognition that I now need to enter an expansion phase, the general idea of Thrilling Tales is set, I now need to expand on the idea. I need to open up the world of the characters, really hit home with the concepts the opening scenes of The Eternity Crystal established, that they are renowned figures, celebrities, blue blood establishment or all three. They travel the world, it's their playground and have a social network that involves similar figures and this needs expanding on. It's also true that people take interest in them, as there is a recognition these people have an essential dynamism to achieve things and change the world. They are not heroes hiding under a bushel. An example of this is Nathanial and Dr Kloner's discovery of the Hollow Earth. Another example is the League of Gentlemen's Gentlemen, they provide 'man servants' to these dynamic individuals for a reason? Then there is the people of fame, infamy and renown they may become linked with which was the purpose of having such people at the opening of The Greatest Show on Earth.

The dramatic intensity needs to also be moved up a notch, hopefully by keeping all we've achieved so far, and layering in the more dramatic stuff explicitly stated or suggested in the aspects. There is a ton of of them in those fifty aspects, lots of large scale, heroic and great conflict, really mythical style stuff that needs addressing. They don't just have these individually, they have a core of them also between each other. I'd list a number of them out but I'd just be accumulating more words and probably not do each character equal justice as I quickly mention more from one than another when in truth they're all great. In short though, these issues now need bringing in and explored and dramatic decisions framed around them (ideally while trying to stop a Zeppelin falling into a Volcano or something).

So, these are the sort of things I'm trying to wrestle with in terms of the games future and using the system in actual play to bring them about.

We shall see how things go in the coming weeks, but since the diary currently includes the wiping out of this weekend and next weekend, and the last weekend in August we have visitors, and then we have the holiday. Throw in the project work that might come off at work which means I'll be away for periods and it all sounds a bit congested. Still, it was meant to be a game to accommodate gaps (though ideally not vast ones I must admit), so we shall see what the future holds. Still, at least this means the idea that certain types of game and/or styles of play can bring the dramatic and cinematic goods to the table, no matter how erratic the scheduling, is going to be tested to the extreme.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Character Advancement, Growth And Change

It's a solid staple in role-playing games that you create a character, and over the course of a campaign he will have a series of adventures, and earn some form of points that allows him to buy new skills, abilities, powers, levels and whatever else in order to become more powerful. Let's call this character advancement. Personally, I'm not a big fan of that advancement model. I don't mind it, but I'm not its biggest fan simply because I'd just allow the characters to be the correct protagonists for the concept of the game. If it's a game about pulp heroes they begin as pulp heroes. If it's a game about super spies then they start as super spies. If they are epic fantasy heroes then they start as epic fantasy heroes. You get the idea. Once you do this, given the length of the typical campaign these days, in that it's not years of playing a weekly session, the need for advancement on a 'power' front is not actually necessary (as you've started as what you need to be and the points you'd accumulate in the relatively short run wouldn't amount to much anyway).

What is more important to me is character growth and change, so as long as the characters are given the requisite level of 'power' to be who they are supposed to be in the campaign (and this depends on numerous factors of which system is inevitably a part), I'm happy with them not getting more powerful and instead focusing on growth and change. As an example, I was quite happy for my Pulsars and Privateers character (using Cinematic Unisystem) never to earn any experience, she did, but I wasn't overly eager to spend it as she was pretty much who she was. The same is true of the Fate 3.0 version of her I've mocked up, I don't see the need to advance her either. I see the need to focus on her aspects, and over time tweak them and change them to represent how she has grown and changed, and to reflect the conclusion of stories, and that's interesting enough. The fact her skills will stay at the same levels and she might never earn more than her five original stunts, assuming we use them in Pulsars and Privateers, doesn't overly bother me. This raises another point: if the game has ways to mechanically represent that growth and change, I'm even less inclined to be bothered about advancement. The coolness of wiping off one aspect and replacing it with another, as an example, to represent new story direction is reward enough. I'm also willing to accept a time may come when that character's story is concluded, indeed, this is something else I favour: most characters I design have an implied end to their story.

As far as I'm concerned this is the model under which Thrilling Tales runs, the characters are powerful enough to be who they are supposed to be: kick ass pulp heroes, and like most of our games it's not going to run for years week after week, so the focus should be on dealing with the issues around aspects within the framework of a series of movies. That's the plan anyway, might need a bit of work, but then it's only had it's opening story really, but that's another topic. As one player did point out, under this model it's important to not miss out critical scenes that allow for other forms of pay off, but I tend to think those scenes should never be missed out ever, but it's potentially more true when no widgets are given out either.

This doesn't mean I seriously dislike advancement, as in some games it is appropriate, it just doesn't do a vast amount for me when applied as a matter of default. Take for example the Dungeons and Dragons model, which has people starting with first level characters and becoming epic heroes. The first campaign of the gaming group took this approach, the characters rising from first to about eight level. In a way Pendragon does it as well, with the characters starting off as lowly squires, gaining skill and renown and eventually dying of old age assuming they don't get run through first. Pendragon brings up an interesting point, in that even in a game that would involved 'power advancement' I'd not be inclined to do it by giving out experience at the end of each adventure, but to adopt a saga model. The idea being a series of adventures occur, time passes, and the characters get an advancement jump before the next mini-series. This is the tactic I'd use in either D20 Star Wars (not that I'm likely to run that now) or Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play (with characters advancing careers between mini-series). In this way the advancement is more story-focused, as the in the next mini-series the Jedi student is a full Jedi, or the plucky peasant in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play has become an Outlaw leader, etc. I guess this way seems more dramatically powerful, as it's less about the adancement and more about the new dramatic situation the character is in and all that embodies.

I did have a bit of a think as to what the exceptions might be to this, the types of games under which I would do the experience points given out at a regular frequency sort of thing, on the basis characters would advance in power. I came to the conclusion I probably would do it for a superhero game. Even then I'd probably implement a minor wrinkle, because in my limited experience of comics, by and large, superheroes do not progress in terms of power magnitude (weird or special events aside), it's more that they gain width. As a result, in my mind I'd give out experience points (probably periodically, if not every session) but put mechanisms in place to ensure the experience points get spent to make the characters more varied, rather than going from lifting cars to jumbo jets, etc. It's not necessary to do this, many variables exist that might make me take a different approach (system being one of them), but in principle I'd consider it.

So, basically, from both a player and a GM perspective, the whole idea of character advancement isn't really high on my priority list. The only time it comes into play is when it's explicitly part of the set-up, and even then as a GM I'd rather it be saga based in most cases. I may feel advancement is needed to make the characters what they should have been from the start, but I put that down to a bit of an error in the original set-up of the campaign. I'd prefer games I play in to be set-up to minimise the need for it as well, apart from when it is truly linked to the point of the game (such as Pendragon), rather than being there just because that's what role-playing is.

As a result, as a player, and also at a system level, I'm more for character growth and change being represented, character advancement doesn't really do much for me except for specific cases.

Permalink | Comments(7) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/08/2007 Bookmark and Share
Task And Conflict Resolution Bollocks

What's interesting about the role-playing game discussions of 1996 to 2000 (or so) is how they date due to better understanding and maturity of ideas. A lot of the discussion was born out of changing the way in which a game was designed, to move it way from being a game about applying skills and resources to accomplish certain objectives (whatever the flavour text might have said) and instead make it a game about telling a story. In short, the actually rules contained mechanisms to drive the type of story the game was designed to tell. There is a whole host of examples in this area, many and varied, and I'm not going to go into them all. The one I want to talk about today is the whole task resolution and conflict resolution thing.

As usual, what happens with these these new ideas, whether good or bad is often not that relevant, is they are born as a reaction to something else, and as a result they often involve a movement to vilify the thing they are a reaction to and establish something that is the complete opposite. This was the case with conflict resolution, which was a reaction to task resolution (as it was named at the time). The idea was, instead of having discreet tasks like opening a safe, hitting an opponent or whatever, that resolved an impartial action, the great idea was to move role-playing games to resolving whole scenes via resolving the conflict. You'd never actually roll to open the safe, the conflict would be something else and would resolve the outcome of a scene. In the combat example you'd not roll to hit the opponent, you'd roll to resolve the whole combat which would be the scene.

What's actually happened here is a muddle of two things, and the whole task versus conflict dichotomy doesn't really hold up if analysed too closely. The reason for this is two variables have actually been changed, which we'll come to later, and also the reactionary need for the change, while creating a great tool for the game design toolbox, actually is a reaction to bad uses of the mechanical construct it was designed to replace. Basically, the conflict resolution and task resolution terms are just a load of old bollocks really, born from discussions at least some seven years old or older. Not only that, one was created to solve a bad application of another, rather than solve the problem.

A better model needs to be sort really, as at the moment both terms get used to mean numerous things. This brings us back to the fact that two variables got changed when conflict resolution was created, and both of them got shifted to the extreme opposite of what was happening before. The two variables are: granularity and Clarity of Intent. The best way of describing it is on this pdf diagram (which was handily created by Fred Hicks, and is a much better model than the old terms). So, basically, when conflict resolution was created, you had people sick of experiencing the difficult top left of the diagram (discreet actions and unclear intent) in their games so they created the bottom right (scene resolution and clear intent). This is what conflict resolution became synonymous with: scene based resolution with clear intent (of the conflict).

The terms have become all but useless, as conflict resolution doesn't really mean anything, as it doesn't say anything about the granularity of the resolution, so all we are left discussing is how clear the intent is of those around the table? It's the same with task resolution, what does that mean? Are we lead to believe task resolution is a dirty word which automatically means loads of pointless rolls with unclear intent? I'm sure some people would like to think that, but in truth that's just due to a faulty definition of task resolution, always putting it in the top left, rather than any truth in reality. It's perfectly viable for task resolution to work really well with clear and relevant intent, just as it's possible for scene resolution to go awry without clear intent.

As a result, I find the diagram very useful, as it focuses on what is actually important in terms of game design and in terms of what you like as a player. You can then focus on the true issues, the two variables of granularity and clarity of intent (or setting stakes, etc, etc). This allows you to look at your role-playing, whatever you are doing, and stand back and see what you want to achieve, or where things might be going wrong. It also means, for me, the whole task or conflict resolution discussion is over, and I'm depreciation the use of the terms, as they are not really useful any longer divorced from the relatively narrow, looking back on it now, original uses, which basically limited the discussion to the top left and bottom right of this new and handy diagram.

To bring it to a really basic and practical example, it's important in my role-playing as an actual player to always have a clear intent or set of stakes in place for every roll, what the granularity is I'm not overly concerned about (though I tend to not sit at the scene resulotion end at the moment), but in most cases that's flexible anyway. I'm not saying I do this all the time, and I could be better at it, but I think that's the key and important thing.

Permalink | Comments(24) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
CottageCon Strike Two

The original CottageCon was such a success, the CottageCon concept is continuing with a second outing. I must admit, it took us so long to get the whole CottageCon idea going, despite talking about it on and off for years, I always thought it would be a one off affair. I guess the Napoleonic antics of Duty & Honour, the epic D&D fantasy heroics, pulp-tastic excitement of The Crystal of Eternity and the on-going Pendragon Saga had us all wanting more.

The next CottageCon is going to be in late October or early November, so it's going to feature cold nights on the moors, and it'll be very dark. The game schedule is also being discussed, and so far the list consists of:

  • The Affair at Ravenscar Manor: A remote manor house on the north Devon coast plays host to a strange, Lovecraftian mystery. I envisage low lighting and candles.
  • Pulsars and Privateers: Pulsars and Privateers returns, but utilising the Fate 3.0 system used in Spirit of the Century. Lots of excitement and adventure on a galactic scale.
  • Inquisitors in the Vineyard: Saturday afternoon is known as the experimental slot, and this time we have Dogs in the Vineyard, but with a set-up of the characters being Inquisitors in the Warhammer 40k universe.
  • The Sword in the Stone: Another instalment of the Pendragon Campaign, the idea being to try and time it so that we can do the pivotal sword in the stone part of the story during the event.

Now, all this is subject to change, especially since neither the would be GM of Inquisitors in the Vineyard or the Pendragon Campaign have confirmed (due to the list sort of having a life of its own and them being nominated without their concent), but hopefully it will go ahead as that's a very interesting selection of games.

Personally, nothing against the other three, but I'm really looking forward to Pulsars and Privateers.

Permalink | Comments(4) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
Glenwood Springs: Is Now The Time?

Periodically, I discuss potential gaming ideas on this site. I don't like to overburden the site with them, since I have to be realistic as to how many of them will actually get played, but there is a core of them that I still would like to do at some vague point in the future. The ones discussed so far have been: The Circle, Nova! And Thrilling Tales!, which has now moved to actual play (which in itself is an achievement). I suspect, out of these, Nova! is the most likely never to see the light of day (because of it's content, not sure why), I'd still like to do The Circle, even if it is more of a limited run.

One idea I've had in mind for a while, and like most of the ideas has been discussed to one degree or another with the gaming group, and reached one phase of development or another, is the idea of Glenwood Springs (and yes, the town actually exists). The concept is simple, but slightly more complex in execution: take a remote, small Colorado town, and have a group of characters return to it, some 10 years after graduating from High School. Each of them returns with some issue, premise or agenda to resolve, and they've got 10 years out of the town behind them. Play.

Now, Glenwood Springs was always an interesting idea because it casts aside the general acceptance of a role-playing game following an adventure fiction model, whether it be pulp heroes, characters on a starship in space opera universe, superheroes, FBI agents or otherwise investigating strange mysteries, etc, and instead swapped it for a relatively vanilla idea in role-playing terms of all the characters being normal people, with relatively normal professions and returning to a relatively innocuous town. If I was to list a major influence it would be Lost, as obviously each issue would lead into some web of secrets or drama, which would exist as part of a larger web. I also like the use of flashbacks to each characters time in High School as a narrative structure, much like is used in Lost.

There was also the fact it would be a hard game to run and GM. As an example, one of the problems was structure, while the framework for plotting was always easy, as it would be a 100% relationship map-based affair. There would be no plot as such, not in an if this, then that sort of model, but instead the players would enter town, and almost immediately become a new, unknown and protagonist driven influence on the relationship map. I've done this before, so that's not so much of a problem, albeit for individual adventures rather than a whole series. It does present a problem though, in that is it the GM's job to decide by total GM fiat how the map is changed and how people interact when the player characters of the story begin to disrupt it? If not, you then need some mechanism to manage that and the flow of the story, as different player character stories will rise and fall (something else you might be best having a structure for so the players can feed into it), and it may not just be the GM and the player in question influencing events, at any particular time any player, using his player character, may cause a flow of events to kick off for another player unless you assume they have individual relationship maps, which ain't going to be the case. After all, there is nothing to say the childhood sweetheart one person has returned to romance isn't married to the school bully now who killed one of the other player charcter's best friends in a drunken car crash, etc.

This brings me to Primetime Adventures, and it strikes me, while I still have my reservations about leaving the typical GM and player structure behind, that it would be a perfect fit. The reasons it is a perfect fit are numerous:

  • The conflict mechanic is good for a game that doesn't really have a significant action component.
  • Fan mail provides a currency to ensure that players bring in their issue and the issues of other player characters, get rewarded for it, and in turn become better at influencing the story in the direction they wish it to go.
  • The creation of scenes on an almost equal basis by all participants means the GM is only a marginally more controlling influence (if at all) on how the story progresses. This may even make the relationship map useless, or it may become something created as the game progresses.
  • The flow of episodes, with the different player characters also having different levels of screen presence throughout the season also works well, as this provides a model to punctuate when a particular player characters reason for returning is the top priority.

Now, this is a perfect example of rules being in synergy with the intent of the game, and as such playing hard in terms of role-playing, and playing hard in terms of aggressive application of the rules, results in a better game and a more charged and dramatic story. The original, clever and aggressive use of fan mail to alter the flow of the story will result in things shooting of in different directions (especially when there is multiple influences on a conflict). The knowledge of the structure of the season and the rise and fall of screen presence will influence what players do as they can build to up to the next characters spotlight episode. Since it's a game very much focused on story, each player has to be in author stance (and I can't resist my author stance, and actor stance bias) rather than continually be in actor stance to ensure they have an eye to authoring an overall story, and since they are in that stance, they might as well be aware of the seasons rise and fall in terms of screen presence and act in knowledge of it. After all, it's great in a game about story and role-playing to be able to role-play, create scenes and decide on conflicts (the last two, in this case, being related to the application of the rules) knowing that the character who is trying to romance his childhood sweetheart has his spotlight episode next.

Indeed, to ignore all the above and not drive it for all it is was worth would be an injustice.

In short, even though this is a game based on story, narrative and characters, it's also a game of rules and the former is supprted by the latter, both driving it forwarded and taking it in directions that might surprise everyone, as no one is ever choosing story direction based on key conflicts by GM fiat. And more importantly, since each character creates an equal number of scenes, even the scenes that ultimately make up the narrative are pretty spontaneous

Now, while the structure of Primetime Adventures is quite new, and removes GM control to a much greater degree than any other game I've ran (primarily through the 'each character creates a scene' mechanic rather than the conflict resolution), it has to be said that the Spirit of the Century powered Thrilling Tales! has allowed me to feel more comfortable with the overall structure of Primetime Adventures. The simple reason for this is, while Spirit of the Century is a more typical game in structure, in that it is still primarily task resolution and certainly has a GM, it is a perfect example of story, narrative and characters being supported by the rules and enhancing the degree to which everything is brought to the table. In short, playing the game and partaking in a game of story and characters is exactly the same thing, as the aspects (driven by spending and earning the currency) can be used to bring the characters to the table in role-playing scenes, and even in actions scenes, making each and every scene, whatever its nature, touched with the individual touches, some may even say aspects, of each protagonist (and by doing it they become more empowered as protagonists, the usual currency feedback loop).

Having finally experienced this in practice, it makes you less wary, of the untested structure of Primetime Adventures, and makes you move to wondering what the effect would be if played. After all, Spirit of the Century was positive and all round enhancing, so why shouldn't Glenwood Springs? Spirit of the Century even influences the idea in another way, as you could use the Novel format for character backgrounds, in that characters could have numerous diary entries, some in high school, some in the 10 years after, and they may have to appear in each others High School ones, for example?

So while now may not be the time exactly, as I've got Thrilling Tales commitments, I suspect the time has got a bit closer, at least in terms of theoretical comfort and interest. Possibly, I still see some niggles. The idea tasks me!

Permalink | Comments(2) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 16/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
Thrilling Tales: The Battle for the Hollow Earth

So, The Battle for the Hollow Earth has taken place, and the question is: how did it go?

First, the new model of streamlined preparation. I'm going to stick with it I think, but it does cause wrinkles that I need to be aware of and thus establish some form of balance. I believe my larger body of preparation in the past wasn't so I could refer to it in the game and have the players hit all the correct beats like some grand puppet master, but so I was mentally prepared on numerous fronts. It was like preparing one potential avenue for the plot, prepared me for others. While the session itself might go quite differently, I'd be mentally prepared with major NPC motivations and the scenes I'd like to have with them. I'd be more prepared in terms of general framing of setting, scenes, locations and whatever else. So, while what I've prepared isn't set in stone and can, and often has, changed significantly, the act of doing it prepares me well just for general delivery. The fact I didn't prepare in this fashion confused me a bit, not because things changed, that's fine, but I felt I didn't have the 'preparation background' and as a result I felt major characters could have come across better. The Hollow Earth could have been framed better in terms of visuals and a lot of the 'deeper' background (just to give it a bit more breadth). A lot of it felt skimmed, while usually I think I'm quite good and giving character and settings depth on the move, with relatively little need to do exposition for ages. I felt I didn't do that in the session. In fact, I pride myself on framing and establishing characters in a relatively action orientated game with a deft touch here and there, and it frustrates me when I let it slide.

Second, any game suffers slightly if your not fully on the ball, but Spirit of the Century can suffer even more I think. The reason for this is simple: the characters have the tools, in the rules, to influence the whole flow of the game via using a combination of compels (on aspects) and decelerations (through skills). Now, in theory, as a the GM, I can over rule any compel or deceleration, and I probably should get a bit more forceful at doing this on occasion (as some things are like setting constants, not under negotiation and shouldn't be declared out, for example), but it is something you want to foster, and is a great thing. In truth, I wasn't probably up for the game fully, for numerous reasons, but I didn't want to cancel, as that causes other problems, largely based around the loss of momentum. If the GM, or a large enough number of the players, are not really up for it a lot of the tools that can make the game interesting and generate that pulp feel don't get used as well as they could. The reverse is also true, in that I think it's important to apply the rules the players have available to them (aspects and skills) relatively strictly, otherwise there is potentially for it just to become one of ever more wild revelations (which is sort of fine, but it's sort of then a different game, moving into say Baron Munchhausen territory), or every character does everything despite players having different skills at the top of the tree.

In summary, the heroes charged back into Iraq having managed to take the Crystal of Eternity from the Thule Society and Lord Chatham, who was last seen falling into what looked like a bottomless chasm. As their truck drove at speed through the streets, a raging energy storm erupted above the city, only for a Hollow Earth airship to arrive through the blinding storm. The heroes kicked into action and half-crashed their plane onto the hanger deck of the airship and took control of the lightly crewed vessel. They then used the damaged airship, due to using an extremely experimental device to travel to Earth, to the Hollow Earth, only to arrive in the midsts of an airship battle in which the forces rebelling against Grand Articifer Maundrin were losing! They used the fact they were on an enemy vessel sent to Earth to get on board the lead ship of the enemy and took General Hakkal captive on the bridge, thus stalling the inevitable destruction of the rebel fleet. They then rendezvoused with the rebel flagship and hatched a plan to use resistance forces in the Imperial City to get in, tackle Articifer Maundrin, take down the cities defences and have the rebel fleet attack. They did this resulting in a dramatic fight with Maundrin and his Ancient Battle Golem bodyuard for two players, while the other two lowered the defences and caused mayhem within the defence silo.

All the above meant, for me, the session felt a bit flat, and by the numbers, in that everything followed a quite typical progression. The sort of progression that happens, I find, when you come to a game not having prepared anything, so the players fall into a default strategy since nothing more interesting was presented. Now, I'm not saying this happened in this case, it just happened to match that model I'd been presented with as a player so many times. In my head I had the resistance leader being someone who hated one of the heroes due to him killing his brother (in the novel that gave rise to the Hollow Earth), a grand 'starship' battle between the Queen's diplomatic courier (in the Millennium Falcon role) and the enemies attack fighters (in the TIE Fighter role), a dramatic one on one sword fight between one character and General Hakkal driven by their conflict over the Queen (which didn't come out at all), and potentially a social conflict as someone tried to persuade the Void Pirates to boost the rebellion fleet by finally returning home after years of living in the void (due to the devastating results of an ancient weapon used in a previous war). I'm not overly concerned things didn't go that way, it was more the feeling that what did happen was by the numbers. As a result of this, I also feel the game lacked any real character drama, it was like an action movie with no real character thrown in, which brings me back to me missing the opportunity to weave that in, which is what I usually try to do. I do think this is actually an issue with Spirit of the Century, things can be so focused on the pulp escalation, any sense of scenes to grow thing dramatically can be lost (and effort has to be put in to get them into the action).

I also need to be constantly aware of the potential to throw things in to make things more interesting, some of these things I feel more comfortable with some of them I don't. For example, I should have been more comfortable with the set-up, as it is classic Star Wars territory, so as one player suggested I could have had their plan go wrong. I put this down to me not fully being on the ball, as in my Star Wars games of old it was just essential any crazy plan goes wrong, and makes it even more crazy, or allows the players to be captured, and thus factors in some hero and villain scene crunching. I also need to be more bold in terms of allowing villains to do stuff that in other games would seem like cheating, because it is pulp, and they should be as crazy, and as bold and as over the top as the heroes or what's the point? I was actually in two minds over how 'cheating' it was to have Grand Articifer Maundrin teleport away when he knew it was over, I shouldn't feel that's the case, as he's a major villain, in theory as good as the heroes, and there was nothing stopping the hero in the fight using a block action to stop him anyway. As long as it's either give and take or an excuse for more excitement, villains should pull this stuff off. After all, the villains will be stopped by the heroes, but they should be causing them pain along the way, otherwise the drama in their conflicts is lost.

In short, you really need to be on the ball every minute of the game to get the compels, set scenes aspects, make sure you don't miss opportunities to grow characters either through dramatic scenes or particularly great framing (which can be just as valid as an actual conversation) and to hit the genre at the right level (it's a myth it's easy I believe). In truth, in every session you're trying to recreat the Doctor Who episodes Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, with the great pacing, the excellent character development and the villains giving as good as they get (while still losing). It's quite a tall order. It is a lot to keep in your head. In truth, this should be the same in every game, but I've either grown rusty, or it actually isn't and there is a bit more to keep track off. It could also be both!

All that makes it sound like it was a bad experience, it wasn't, it just felt a bit flat, and for me, didn't live up to the potential of what it could have been, and I felt the first adventure was better. This is odd, as I expected the scale and potential in the environment to make this one better. In retrospect, though I didn't add the imagery as much as I could, I suspect the imagery and excitement of the fight between one player and Articifer Maundrin in the 'map room' was more exciting than I was reading it. The same was probably true of the battle between another hero and Maundrin's Battle Golem bodyguard, which used compels to go in interesting directions, turning a simple fight in a corridor to one in a 'lift', which in turn turned into an enclosed prison out of control 'lift'. It was this scene that brought in the need to remember scene aspects, as that fight could have been escalated to the next level by simply adding in a couple of scene aspects to represent the enclosed space and the dangerous damage to the 'lift'. There was also numerous missed opportunities for craziness in the Maundrin fight (it was begging for the bed of crystals they were fighting on, which generated the map, to become energised and full of dangerous energy fluxes). As I say, you have to be on the ball.

Still, I'm only one player in the game, the experience for everyone else may have been radically different. After all, something must have been having a larger effect than I was thinking because the player with the Hollow Earth aspects gleefully replaced one enemy aspect (which was a bit weak) with Grand Articifer Maundrin, so something must have worked.

Overall, I'd rate it as okay, which is fair enough, every session can't be balls to the wall brilliance, and it's only the second adventure and the third session. I am also constantly aware, I'm my harshest critic.

To be continued....

Permalink | Comments(3) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 09/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
Eleven Index Cards

That is the sum total of tomorrow's instalment of Thrilling Tales, eleven index cards, and seven of those are stats for various things in the game, both main characters and a number of minion types. It is, without a doubt, the least written preparation I've had for a game...ever. I don't just mean it's the least by a small amount, it's the least by a massive amount. I usually have pages of A4, getting into the high teens possibly even the twenties. Four lonely index cards with plot 'facts' on. It's a big of a difference.

It's interesting how I got to this point actually, as it's not normally how I'd approach things, as I've said. The first reason is largely time, I've been working away for two of the three weeks leading up to the session, and that always throws me as even though I may have a lot of time on the evening when working away, I'm never in the frame of mind to do anything. You then have to factor in the amount of preparation I did for the first adventure on the big gaming weekend. A lot of that wasn't used, once the first scene was introduced and things were flowing I rarely looked at the copious amounts of index cards again. It's true to say that while the adventure went along the lines I'd planned, scenes got dropped and a whole two parts got dropped off the end due to them being unnecessary, due the 'middle' being turned into a satisfactory conclusion through aspects. There is also a shift in the balance of preparation against the overriding concern it'll all just fall flat on its face, obviously it was weighted one way before, and now that has shifted slighted.

At the same time, the thought that it could all fall flat on its face is still there, it's just not as strong. I usually have a sense of who I want the characters to meet in various scenes and why (the whole 'party' before Dr Kloner's grand show was done that way), and I usually have a potential order of events mapped out and the connections as to why. The idea of going in with such low preparation, even down to the fact key scenes aren't planned out as well as usual, such as the potential conclusion, is still slightly worrying. The main concern it'll end up direction less at some point, or all be going fine only to suddenly find things have progressed you into a corner.

Still, the fact any sense of a conclusion, other than the general intent of the villain (and a few bits of potential imagery), isn't in my head is a bit worrying, but what the hell, last time a relatively innocuous scene to raid a Nazi archaeology expedition turned into the conclusion and, if it all does go a bit awry, so what, we'll discuss it, move on and try again. It is, after all, only a game. Hopefully a fun one, but a game nevertheless.

The key thing is I've not only got eleven lonely business cards, I've also got five players with 10 aspects each and the want to experience some pulp action and adventure. This is the secret ingredient truth be told. This in itself represents a shift in the perceived burden of responsibility, which is an interesting point I might come back to later.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
He's A Wolverine! With Blasters!

I had my thought patterns spin off in strange directions today when I gave a quick scan and noticed the thread about the games you'd be playing if you could only play games from on or before 1985. Now, the first thought was, I have no bloody idea what games qualify as being out before 1985 beyond the obvious ones like Traveller, Call of Cthuhlu, Dungeons and Dragons, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons...and that's about it. I'm sure there are loads more, but it takes a bit of thought. I'd have been aware of them at the time, but that's about it. I have a feeling, even though I've been involved in the hobby since 1981, anything before around 1987 is a bit like gaming pre-history. It has all the characteristics of pre-history, in that the events are a bit vague and the order of the ones you do remember can be moved around without anyone being able to accurately date them.

It did get me poking around in the depths of my brain though, and I remembers a game that was much maligned, but I thought had something, and I never did get to run it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. I mean come on, who wouldn't want to play in a game in which you can play a Ninja Possum, complete with Katana? No? Okay, look at it another way, it could be largely like Dark Angel, but instead of being the gorgeous Jessica Alba, you're a Bull Dog that can almost walk upright, and has mastered the pugilistic arts, and can punch the living shit out of things? No? Okay, a cat burgler that is actually a cat!

The way I saw it was it like a comic book campaign, but one in which every last ounce of strangeness could be drawn out of it, because when you start with the players all being animals that have been altered genetically via one means or another, you've sort of set the bar at a level in which anything can happen! You could have dastardly corporations trying all sorts of evil plans. Ancient conspiracies. Martial Arts. Aliens from other planets and dimensions, how exciting is that, the Ninja Possum and the Pugilistic Bull Dog facing off against a green alien, with a big head, floating on a disk, and his horde of battle robots! I'd also have thrown in a bit of urban fantasy as well, as who knows what lives in those ancient sewer complexes! It would have some drama, the characters would be actual characters, but the great thing is the anything could happen factor.

I remember the character creation being really cool, you'd basically pick or roll for an animal, and then have numerous B.O.E points (don't ask me what they stood for), that allowed you to alter your animal, which generally meant how bigger or smaller it was than the standard animal type, and how close to human it was or how many of its natural abilities it kept. I always thought the coolest ones were the characters that primarily kept their animal shape, with a few stylish modifications. I always remember one of the bad guys in the back of the book, a Wolvernine, complete with blasters, an eye patch and a cigar. Classic. I'm sure the process was also horrendously unbalanced, with some animals being far superior to others (some seemed get more B.O.E, and key things like SDC armour), but it was fun.

It used the Palladium system, which was one of the many D&D sort of inspired systems, though this one took hold. It became one of those systems were no one actually knew anyone who played it, but it sold quite highly to some secret cabal of Palladium players that seemed to hide themselves away from the role-playing community at large. You could get games for about every genre without ever having to learn anything else, they even capitalised on this at one point and created Rifts, the game that allowed you to throw all that together big style in some grand royal rumble of giant robots, superheroes, genetically altered animals, wizard, vampires, ninjas, superspies and whatever else! I wasn't a fan of Rifts. I wasn't a fan of Palladium, but come on, a Ninja Possum?

Permalink | Comments(12) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
A Change in Gaming Choices?
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

I'm currently listening to the Star Wars soundtrack, specifically The TIE Fighter Attack, the track that plays in the original Star Wars when the Millennium Falcom is escaping from the Death Star and a number of TIE Fighters give chase. It's a classic track, and I'm listening to it now as I work on something, exactly what shall remain a secret, but it's probably not hard to guess. The fact my mind has been drifting to Star Wars related things recently, has got me thinking about the influence of Spirit of the Century on my future gaming.

Star Wars is particularly relevant because the WEG Star Wars D6 game is probably the single game I've ran the most. As I've said before, Spirit of the Century reminds me of Star Wars D6 a lot, in terms of being a consistent, easy and flexible rules that enhance the game, but in the case of Spirit of the Century it also has a hefty dose of great mechanics that put things on the table and support story now! I've always envisaged I have another Star Wars campaign within me, the visuals, the whole space opera thing, actually having someone play a proper Jedi and just the simple fact the whole campaign comes with its own iconic theme tune, has always made me think I'd run another one.

In that vein, as I've read up on the new Star Wars Saga Edition game, with its much streamlined and simplified D20 rules, I always assumed I'd buy it. Now, I'm not so sure. As I read about it I find myself very ambivalent about it, and I think this is for two reasons: (1) I think Thrilling Tales is very much going to fulfil the same need as Star Wars, with a lot more variety to boot and (2) Spirit of the Century has pretty much spoilt me in terms of the majority of role-playing games out there.

The first reason is incredibly positive, of course, very positive. I see in Thrilling Tales five very interesting characters, that have enough material to generate a great campaign and that's ignoring any burning of aspects as stories are concluded, etc. In short, the campaign's only length restriction is the one we impose ourselves. It's also very varied, as I've said in the past, the campaign, and it's main protagonists, can support grand adventures, influenced by numerous genres all with a pulp flavour. It is very much a Star Wars campaign in my mind,in terms of scope, grandeur, pace, etc, it just takes place in our world, in a slightly tweaked period of grand, sweeping adventure and danger.

The second reason came out of nowhere really, but I suppose I should have been expecting it. I've been trying to get the things Spirit of the Century brings to the table into every game I've tried to run for a while. At times I've done this badly, or not communicated it well enough maybe, at other times I actually had it to a degree and then let it go I think. Now it's happening (and the big test will be the second adventure, not ran on some experimental weekend), it sort of makes you look at other things differently.

For example, I look at the character creation process in Spirit of the Century, and I find myself looking at any other game that doesn't do it in a similar way and not being particularly impressed. Do I really want to run a game in the future that starts the whole process off with a character creation process that just defines what the character can do? It doesn't go on to forge connections, or communicate flags as to what the character's story is about and provide a mechanism for those to be used in actual play? You see, while you can include a lot of things in a discussion format, outside of the system, if the system doesn't support that at a system level you lose the greater than the sum of its parts factor, or the system even drags people away from it. This was enforced quite a bit when we did the Lord of the Rings characters recently for the game that will take place today. I have no doubts the game is going to be great (it has that Star Wars vibe of well visualised setting, atmospheric and complete with it's own soundtrack), but the characters creation process just felt so odd. The character creation process told me lots of different things about my character, but all based on what he can and cannot do, nothing to do with who he is or what the mechanisms are for driving that in play. In the past, that would not have bothered me, and it's the very reason I usually create characters without needing to see the system, as the system rarely has anything to do with it, but it felt different this time. A bit hollow.

This brings me back to Star Wars Saga Edition, I almost certainly won't be buying it.

Now, this isn't meant to be a Spirit of the Century is my one true game, I've found nirvana and everything else is crap commentary. That's not it at all, I still see, understand and appreciate the brilliance of other games. I still think Dungeons and Dragons is a brilliant game, a completely different one, but brilliant. I still like Mutants and Masterminds, for numerous reasons, in that it has a quite a bit of Spirit of the Century in it really, once you get past the points-based powers at character creation. At the same time, I'm finding my ability, at this time, to buy into and run games that don't have an aspect-like system (in intention, not necessarily the same in execution), and a currency to drive them, very limited. I will be looking at any games using other permutations of FATE 3,0 with an interested eye, such as Far West, but I'm not wanting it to be the one true system.

The one thing that may change all of this, of course, is the ability to craft aspect-like systems and currencies on top of others that don't have them. I suspect the general appreciation of such options is now so high across the role-playing group that such things would be viewed in a very positive manner. I'm not saying all systems should be layered with the exact same system as Spirit of the Century, but instead something for which the intent is similar. As an example, in the aborted Warhammer campaign, each character had a primary premise, the story waiting to be told, and a doom, the very thing that would likely cause them to fail in their premise. The intent behind that was similar to aspects, just in a more broad and simpler manner.

It's a good time to be gaming though. We finally seem to have cracked the whole situation of one DM running with all the responsibility, which is great. It's also had the predicted effect, more people running generates the will for more people to run things as they realise their not signing themselves up for half a year of slog with a schedule to keep! In fact this has been cracked so well, it has one disadvantages, we have multiple groups running multiple games and not all players are in both groups so some people on both sides are always missing out! Still, that's a good issue to have. One day I might even get to play a game littered with flags, story-driven 'aspects' and a cool currency.

The amazing thing is, at the current time, I think if I was given a choice, I prefer running one. Now, for anyone that knows, that is a major turnaround.

One thing that is interesting with all these people willing to DM now is: was the only difference between me and everyone else but the Iron DM, in terms of my series of aborted games, the fact I was willing to reach for that doughnut, just like Homor Simpson, a bit more than others? Because as soon as the 'less big commitment', 'more games in different formats and run lengths' thus allowing the 'more varied product' environment finally to kicked in, everyone wants a go! So, maybe the environment I needed to get a game going, was the same as everyone else?

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/07/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Epic Fantasy Adventure...Western!
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

Ironically, one thing I've never done during my involvement in the role-playing hobby is the grand, epic fantasy adventure. You know the type of thing, the general Lord of the Rings sort of deal, a group of heroes, the ancient Dark Lord and the only way to defeat the enemy is some epic quest of some type. I've played in numerous campaigns involving that set-up, but I've never done it myself. Not sure why, it's not a conscious aversion, but it's born out to be true anyway.

One of the things I've always wanted to do is actually do the epic fantasy quest campaign, but I've always wanted to do it within the framework of another genre: space opera, super heroes, World of Darkness Werewolves or even a Western. Yes, the one I liked the most was the idea of doing the grand fantasy quest in the form of a western. I think this is driven by the game Deadlands, and again I probably saw something in it that wasn't there, and some books by David Gemmell, as he, in a lot of cases, wrote westerns despite the fantasy trappings. He even did write a western fantasy epic in the form of the Jon Shannow novels.

This brings me to the game I'm currently keeping an eye on: Far West.

A problem I have these days is I no longer buy into games and play them, I have ideas and I need a system of some sort to act as a framework for bringing those ideas to the table. So, the ideas I have roaming around in my head need systems. Far West, in theory, and at this early stage, seems perfect for my grand fantasy epic as a western idea. You have all the tropes of a western, along with a load of Wuxia ones, as they are quite similar, both being a mythologised version of a countries past, you're just sort of swapping swords for guns (or guns for swords, but in this case you can have both). It's even got a healthy dose of steampunk! Not only that it's all powered by FATE 3.0, so what more could I want!

All those elements together, in what sounds like a very cohesive whole really makes me think...awesome. If you then add in the mythical, the epic and the quest it should come together as a heady brew!

Of course, this does raise some issues about what the post Thrilling Tales world will be like, which is some distance off (way off really), but I'm already making decisions quite different to the ones I've made in the past based on the experience. That's potentially a topic for another day.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/06/2007 Bookmark and Share
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