30 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Thirty - Rarest RPG Owned

Uh... I don't really know.

I've got an extensive collection of RPG books. I've been dragging these things around for years and years. I remember finding a copy of Deities & Demigods that included the Cthulhu mythos, and I was ecstatic. I don't know what it goes for now, or how rare it really is.

I'm not sure what the values of most of my books and boxed sets are. I know I had a hell of a time finding a copy of The Will and the Way for the original Dark Sun campaign setting. I did find one eventually, and it's nestled in with the rest of my DS books. I tracked down and purchased just about every supplement they produced for that game line, and they're all in pretty good condition.

Another book I could never find was Hideouts and Strongholds for WEG's Star Wars RPG. The stress of not having that book was alleviated when my friend Jay sent me a copy from his collection. I owe him one for that. It also seems that some of the Saga Edition Star Wars books are worth a pretty penny. For instance, Starships of the Galaxy, the first Saga edition SW product I worked on, used to be pretty expensive.

I don't generally keep an eye on RPG prices. I collect them, but I don't do it because they're valuable. I do it because I enjoy gaming.

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Nine - Most Memorable Encounter

Like this. Only without the rat, skull, or sign.
What do you do when you find a half-elf defiler sleeping in your barn? Why, you lynch him, of course.

That's what happened to my wife's character in the original Dark Sun game I ran. Her character, a defiler/thief named Innath, decided to slip into someone's barn on the outskirts of a desert village. While he was sleeping, the barn's owner discovered him, gathered some friends, and decided to mete out some Athasian justice.

The farmer and his buddies, all humans, woke Innath up in a most uncouth manner, searched him, and then escorted him to a place where no one would hear him scream. They gave Innath a shovel made from chitin and told him to dig. As he dug himself a hole, they pulled out the broy and drank themselves silly, but kept just enough of their sobriety to ensure he wasn't going to slip away.

When Innath's hole was as deep as they liked, they tied his hands and made him kneel in it. They filled the hole with dirt until Innath's head was the only thing at ground level. Helpless, Innath watched as they gathered around him and relieved their broy-filled bladders directly on top of his head. Then, laughing, they gathered up the shovel and went home.

The sun rises higher in the sky and the temperature begins to bake the urine-soaked earth around Innath's head. Suddenly, he hears what sounds like a strange, shrill bird call. He can't turn his head real far, but he catches a glimpse of a snake-like neck of a large bird pop over a rise and stare hungrily down at him. The bird shrieks again, and another one pops up. Then another. And another. They begin to stalk closer, revealing themselves to look like spiny ostriches. The birds (abrians) circle Innath's head.

Innath would've been dead if the other players--a fire priest and an escaped gladiator--hadn't been attracted by the birds screeching and decided to investigate. The gladiator charged in, with the fire priest close behind, and slaughtered the birds before they could pick out Innath's eyes.

That was one of the most memorable encounters I remember from that Dark Sun campaign. There were other epic moments--a battle with a bulette at an oasis, the gladiator's duel with an elf tribe's champion, or the climactic fight against a lich and his undead minions in a subterranean tomb below Tyr--but that's the one I remember most fondly.

Note: The art is from a game called Blood Dawn, which is related to a quirky sci-fi RPG called Battlelords of the 25th Century, originally produced by Optimus Design Systems (ODS). Looks like Battlelords is now being produced by the chaps over at SSDC. The artist is Michael Osadciw, as near as I can tell.

28 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Eight: Scariest Game I've Played

This is generally the point when your brain 'splodes.
I've said before that I'm primarily a GM. I've run a lot of horror games in my lifetime, and I've even had players tell me they were genuinely scared during such sessions. What I haven't done is played in a lot of horror games, which means I have a very narrow selection of such to choose from.

I've played horror games at conventions, but they were never particularly scary. Maybe it's the atmosphere of being in a room with a hundred other gamers with everyone talking, rolling dice, and hamming it up. I've always preferred to run my own games with the lights down. Or, even better, keep the lights off, with candles here and there to provide a more "organic" form of illumination. Put some creepy music on at a low volume (always preferred the Hellraiser score, myself) and it takes most of the work out of getting your players in the mood.

But I digress.

The scariest game I've ever played was one of my girlfriend's (now wife's) Call of Cthulhu games. There are three such games that stick out in my mind, and two of them were genuinely frightening. I'll focus on the one I recall the best, which was set in 1920's San Francisco. At least, I think it was. Anyway, there were two players in the game. One of us was an educated fellow, sort of a scholar. I, on the other hand, was playing a federal agent.

Our first investigation began as a missing persons case, or so we assumed, involving a little girl. We canvased the neighborhood where she'd been seen, talked to folks about her. No one could say where she lived, but they'd seen her here and there. In fact, one of them had called the case in, hoping we'd locate her and find out where her home was.

Eventually, we did find her. Her name was Madeline, but she was a bit odd. Once we'd spoken with her the first time, she sort of disappeared (not before our eyes, but she definitely wasn't there anymore). We did some research, and it turned out a girl about her age and description went missing near the turn of the century. It couldn't have possibly been her, since she was around eight or nine years old. Or could it be? Old photographs we dug up looked pretty much like she did, right down to the clothes she wore.

Long story short, she'd been taken away by some kind of extradimensional thing or being, which she referred to as "mommy." Apparently, there were lots of "mommies" where it had taken her. In order to get into the realm where this entity lived, you had to do a little hopscotch thing and recite a strange rhyme filled with words no sane man should ever hear, let alone speak. We didn't believe her, but when she showed us--and vanished right in front of us--there was a bit of sanity loss.

My character, as sentimental as he was, felt that he had to rescue this poor innocent girl from whatever evil had taken her away from her family all those years ago. This meant doing "the Hopscotch" (as Madeline called it) and reciting the rhyme she'd used. The creepiest part of the game was crossing that threshold and seeing what lay beyond it.

We did end up saving her, and our sanities suffered for it. My character ended up adopting Madeline. She was a strange little girl, probably insane, but she was also young and there was a chance she'd recover. My character made life as good for her as possible, but she never was what people of the '20's would call "normal." She was even a useful reference during future investigations, though my character was hesitant to go to that well too often.

That, in a nutshell, is the scariest game I've ever played in.

My wife doesn't run games anymore, for which I'm eternally saddened. She had a great grasp of storytelling, and she was probably the most internally consistent GMs I've ever had. Occasionally I bug her and whine about it, but she hems and haws. She doesn't really enjoy GMing, so I don't push the issue. I have her as a player, and that'll have to be enough.

27 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Six - Game I'd Like to See a New/Improved Edition of...

Darker than Dark Sun.
This is a pretty easy topic, and I bet you're probably thinking, "He wants a new edition of Cyberpunk." While that may be true, I'm perfectly happy with 2020 the way it is (was?). If a new edition of my favorite dark future RPG comes out, I'll pick it up. I may even play it. But it's not what's at the forefront of my mind when I think about RPGs that I want to see a new edition for.

That distinction belongs to Midnight, a campaign setting produced by Fantasy Flight Games, and which I was privileged enough to contribute to. You see, after I discovered Dark Sun in the mid-nineties, I didn't think there was another fantasy setting that could draw me in. I was certain of it. Who wants to play your run of the mill dwarves, elves, and halflings, anyway? Athas is all I needed.

Then, some time after D&D 3.0 came out, I discovered Midnight. It was a campaign setting that threw everything for a loop. People would ask me what it was like and I'd generally answer, "Imagine you're playing in Middle Earth, only Sauron (or Morgoth) wins." Dark Sun was a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where the events that shaped the world happened long ago in a time that no one remembered... except for the Dragon-Kings.

In Midnight, the war against the Shadow has been lost within living memory. The formerly free peoples of the world are either enslaved or backed into the corners of their own homelands. Peace is a fleeting dream, and the future a horrible nightmare. To rail against the enemy is to invite your own death, as well as that of your family. It's a dark setting, even darker than Athas.

A map of Eredane, the land of the Midnight campaign setting.
A second edition of Midnight was released that brought everything together under the 3.5 banner. It had a lot of great improvements, a wealth of information, and as much fluff and crunch as anyone would want, maybe even more. After 4E was released, there wasn't much more to be done. In 2009, FFG seemingly put the nail in Midnight's proverbial coffin. I still ran games of Midnight because it was still awesome and I hadn't jumped on the 4E bandwagon. To me, it was like running a game of Red Dawn, except the Russians were orcs and the AKs were vardatches.

Now that 5th edition D&D is out and I've had a chance to read the rules, roll up some characters, and will be running a game of it soon, I feel that it would be a great system for running Midnight. That said, even an original system--perhaps even one akin to Edge of the Empire's rules--would be pretty cool, too. I'm not picky. I just want my Midnight to come back and see support. Maybe they'll even ask me to write for it again.

Well... a man can dream, anyway.

26 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Six - Coolest Character Sheet

This is how we used to do it in the old days, kids.
This is sort of an odd one. I mean... I don't really have a favorite character sheet, nor do I think of any of the ones I've seen as being particularly "cool." Character sheets need to be useful, presenting important details at a glance while providing enough space for all those building blocks we make our characters out of.

Truth be told, I miss the days of yore, when characters were scrawled on sheets of lined paper in pencil. The way that games have developed over the years, with increased character options and a variety of different systems, has made tabletop RPGs more dependent on official character sheets. If you look at a 2nd edition AD&D character from the 90's, and then compare it to a character sheet from D&D 3.5 (or even 5th), you'll notice there's a heck of a lot more to record and write down. At least, it feels that way.

I appreciate a well-designed character sheet just as much as the next gamer. I'm generally pleased with the quality of the sheets made for the games I've been playing over the past few years. Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion, The One Ring, and D&D 5th edition have perfectly functional and visually-pleasing character sheets in my opinion.

Are they cool, though? Sure, I guess so. Are any of them the coolest sheets ever? I really can't say. They do what they're supposed to do. If they ever invent a character sheet that can roll my dice and track its own hit points, I suppose that might earn the title of "coolest."

25 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Five - Favorite RPG No One Else Want to Play

Only one person in my current gaming group actively wants to play The One Ring. The rest of them aren't necessarily opposed, but they'd prefer something else at the moment. Perhaps it's the over-saturation of Peter Jackson's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies that have set them on their course. In my opinion, TOR is so much more Tolkien than Peter Jackson's films are. While they're pretty (the sets, costume designs, and visuals are certainly top notch), the movies are likely far and beyond what Tolkien would have approved of.

I will do you a favor and avoid ranting about the movies. That's not what we're here for. Must... resist...!

Be that as it may, I will be running The One Ring again at some point. You hear me, people? You're destined to walk the byways of Wilderland eventually! And when you do, not even Gandalf will be able to save your sorry behinds!

24 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Four - Most Complicated RPG Owned

Living Steel gave Rolemaster a run for its money.
I never did buy into Phoenix Command, but I seem to remember that Living Steel and the Aliens Adventure Game (both of which are based on PC) are pretty damned complicated. I've got copies of them both on the shelf next to me, and a cursory glance through the rules confirms that many charts and tables are required to perform any manner of combat check. I always felt that anyone who bothered to foster their familiarity of the system might be able to run it reasonably quickly. That person was not me.

I also own a few Rolemaster and Hero system books. GURPS can also be pretty complicated, though I was exposed to it a lot growing up and I know it doesn't have to be a nightmare to play/run. And, of course, I always considered my copy of Shadowrun first edition to be nigh-incomprehensible. I played in a few games of SR in my earlier years (never wanted to run it because I was a Cyberpunk 2020 guy) and I always relied on the GM to know what needed to be done and why.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Twilight: 2000 (first edition) by GDW. I remember picking it up because it looked so damn cool. I got it home, read the rules, and was instantly befuddled. It was the first game I'd ever seen where you needed a worksheet to create your character, which you then transferred to a proper character sheet. The fluffy parts of the game were awesome, but learning that system was a struggle. GDW eventually released a simpler version in the second edition, but damn.

I keep a lot of these complicated games around because, when you look past their systems, there's a plethora of very evocative content in there. Care went into creating these worlds and settings. Inspiration is important. I may never play these games, but it's nice to comb them for interesting ideas and tidbits that I can employ somewhere else.

23 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Three: Coolest Looking RPG Product/Book

For sheer style, visual impact, and bulk, I have to say that Monte Cook's Ptolus is probably the coolest-looking RPG product that I own. I picked it up in 2007, the year it won an ENnie for Product of the Year. If you've never seen it,it's a huge hardback tome that clocks in at 670 pages in length. Given its sheer immensity, it's a lot of information to take in all at once. It's an impressive product, both visually and conceptually.

There are plenty of other RPG products that look pretty darn cool. I'm not the sort to buy collector's editions/limited editions of games, though I did have a secret desire to own the original Dark Heresy collector's edition. I couldn't really justify the cost at the time, but it was such a cool book to look at. My friend Kate got one back in my Warhammer Online/Mythic days, otherwise I wouldn't have known what I was missing.

So far, I've been really impressed with the way The One Ring's products have looked. The layouts are clean and the art really meshes with the setting. Sure, I may be biased a great deal (I do keep bringing the game up, don't I?), but Cubicle 7 does such a good freaking of producing their products.

22 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Two - Best Second-Hand RPG Purchase

A very bad picture of my WEG Star Wars shelf.
One of my favorite things about the game store we used to go to in San Diego was that it had a shelf of used games and RPG books. It was fairly well-stocked, but there was always a certain amount of product that never moved. Once you became familiar with the stuff that didn't sell, you could easily spot anything new that was added since the last time you came in. I found some pretty good stuff on that shelf from time to time, but there's one purchase in particular that really made my day.

At some point, I'd lost track of WEG's Star Wars RPG. I still had my original first edition books at the time, but for some reason I'd never gone over to the second. As it happened, I walked into that store one day and discovered someone had sold their entire WEG Star Wars RPG collection to the store. It was second edition stuff, too, and included a full run of the Star Wars Adventure Journals. Best of all, most of the books were about $3 and $4 each, with the hardcovers being somewhat more expensive (probably between $6 and $8 apiece).

I decided I was going to take all this stuff home. I mean, I loved Star Wars, and I'd had no idea so much stuff had been released for it. I don't remember how much everything totaled up to, cost-wise, but it was a bargain. There were a few holes in the collection, some of which I eventually filled, but overall it was something like 25-30 books that I'd be hard-pressed to find for those prices now. Since then, my Star Wars library has served me well.

21 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-One - Favorite Licensed RPG

Use the Force, Mithrandir!
This comes down to my two favorite IPs--Star Wars and Middle Earth--and I have a lot of trouble choosing between the two of them when it comes right down to it. I've loved them both for many, many years, though I suppose my adoration of Star Wars predates my love of The Hobbit by about six whole months. You see, Star Wars was released in May, 1977. The animated film The Hobbit was broadcast on NBC in November of that same year.

Perhaps that explains the conflict that rages within me on a near-daily basis.

This is one of those "photo finish" preferences that is so close, it might as well be a tie. It's right up there with asking me if I like bacon more than I like cheesecake more than I like bacon. There is no correct answer! It's one of those Lovecraftian things that drives men mad.

(Incidentally, I love both bacon and cheesecake. I am now curious if anyone has ever made a bacon cheesecake before, and if not, for the love all that is holy, WHY NOT?)

(And here is the answer. I think I need to be medicated now.)

Since I've brought up the subjects of bacon and cheesecake, you can tell this is a really big deal for me. It's a decision no mortal man should have to make. Whoever came up with this RPGaDay thing is a sadist of the most sinister nature.

Ultimately, it's a choice between Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion and The One Ring, isn't it?

Fine. I'll make a choice. Have it your way.

Due to the fact that I've been running nothing else but EotE for the past few months, and given that I've contributed to AoR professionally, I suppose that Fantasy Flight's Star Wars lines are currently my favorite licensed RPGs.

But it's really, really close, people. Like, by a hair's breadth. I'm talking about as broad as a hair from the world's smallest chihuahua. Slim. Very, very slim.

I'm going to end this post now before it gets any more drawn-out, melodramatic, or silly. Please accept my humblest apologies.

20 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty - Will Still Play in Twenty Years' Time...

I'm pretty sure the game I'll still be playing in twenty years is going to be some edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Given the propensity for new editions, they'll probably be on 8th or 9th edition by then, too. It's not that D&D is my favorite game, though I have enjoyed playing specific editions for years on end. It's mostly because D&D has been around for forty years, and I'm pretty sure it'll still be around in 2034 (barring acts of God, global thermonuclear war, or zombie apocalypse).

I have a fairly extensive gaming library at my disposal. Assuming I don't leave the hobby (highly unlikely) or get a job overseas and sell the majority of my collection (somewhat more likely, though still day-dreamy pie-in-the-sky), I'll be running at least some of these games as the years pass by. I'm sure I'll be playing Star Wars in one incarnation or another, or Cyberpunk 2020, or (old) World of Darkness.

This also makes me think back to the games I was running twenty years ago. Cyberpunk was probably the big one for me back then. I used to love me some horror gaming with the Chill RPG (and I'm still tempted to dust that one off from time to time, too).

Note that yesterday I got my copy of the 5th edition Player's Handbook, and it's looking pretty slick. It retains much of its third edition charm, so I may very well be on board. I'm going to be trying it out soon enough, and only then will I be completely sure if I'm upgrading. More on that, later.

19 August 2014

#RPGaDay - Day Nineteen: Favorite Published Adventure

For its time, this was a seriously kick-ass game.
Before I get to the long-winded part of this post, where I pontificate like a long-winded grognard after too many margaritas, let's get down to the nitty gritty.

While I own plenty of adventures, I haven't run very many of them. If I have to pick just one to be my favorite, though, I'm going to go for nostalgia and choose Rebel Breakout. For those of you not in the know, Rebel Breakout was the adventure included in the 1st edition of West End Games' Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, and was written by Curtis Smith.

Given Rebel Breakout was made to teach new GMs how to run Star Wars games, it's not terribly complicated. Still, it served as my introduction to published adventures, and I know I ran it at least once or twice when I first got my feet wet role-playing in a galaxy far, far away.

I've even given some thought of creating an adaptation of the adventure for use in Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion, but, as I've said, time is precious. If I did forge ahead, it'd probably be little more than a document of stat blocks for the various encounters presented in the adventure.

Other honorable mentions for Favorite Published Adventure include Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, one of the great classic D&D adventures from way back in the day. And I'll never forget the first full-length Star Wars adventure I bought, Tatooine Manhunt, which is another one I'd love to adapt to modern Star Wars RPG mechanics.

As for the pontification I promised, I never used to run published adventures. I had the free time available to plot my own stories for my various groups, for better or worse. I always felt that published adventures were the lazy GM's last resort.

Then I grew up.

Growing up meant less free time. It meant a steady job. It meant I had to pay taxes and bills and buy toilet paper without embarrassment like everyone else. All of this added up to me having less time to invent my own stories and plots for the games I was running.That's not to say I went quietly into that dark stage of my life. I still try do most of the work myself, and I usually succeed. Usually.

With that in mind, I have (over the years) learned that published adventures are wonderful sources of inspiration, maps, and lore. I don't often run such adventures, but I've written a few--"The Fell Star" in Scum and Villainy, "The Perfect Storm" in Galaxy of Intrigue, and (most recently) "The Perlemian Haul" in the Age of Rebellion core rulebook. I've come to enjoy writing adventures very much, because it allows me to do what I loved doing in my early days of GMing: To create a stories for players to experience.

18 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Eighteen - Favorite Game System

When it comes to game systems, I'm either fickle or I'm poly-amorous. I like lots of them for different reasons. I suppose having a favorite for me depends a great deal on what I'm playing--or want to play--at the moment.

It's a pretty close tie at the moment, but I suppose I'd have to go with the system used for FFG's Star Wars RPGs, Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion. Part of it has to do with the fact that I've written for Age of Rebellion, and the other part has to do with the fact that it's what I've been running lately. It's a nice, sleek game system that does precisely what it sets out to do--allow both players and GM to contribute to a game's narrative.

It took a little getting used to, what with the custom dice and all, but it really does allow for another level of freedom when both running and playing the game. Once the players get into it, their contributions really tend to add a lot to the game and the story that you're all telling together.

My runner-up is the system used in The One Ring. I've only run a handful of games, but I really dig how the dice work and how everything feels so very right, especially in regards to running a Middle Earth-themed game.

Other systems I like quite a bit in no particular order are Hollow Earth Expedition's "Ubiquity" system, the original (Old) World of Darkness/Storyteller system, and (of course) the Interlock system used in Cyberpunk 2020 and Mekton. I still have a great fondness for Saga edition Star Wars and D&D 3.5, and I'm very comfortable with them. Fifth Edition D&D is looking good, too, but the jury's out until my new PH arrives tomorrow.

17 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Seventeen - Funniest Game I've Played

I know I've played in funny games. I know I've run some games where funny stuff happened. But I'll be damned if I can remember a single game that was the funniest of them all.

There was one time, I was running Edge of the Empire for the first time. I used the beginner box adventure, but the players had drawn up their own characters. At the end, they've stolen (acquired?) a Trandoshan slaver's ship and they're flying away into space. Someone asked if there was any food on board. The conversation went something like this:

GM: There's several chunks of raw meat in the refrigeration unit.
Player: What kind of meat is it?
GM: You have no idea. For all you know, it's Wookiee meat.
Player: I cook some up. How is it?
GM: It's a little Chewie.

Yeah, rim shot. We laughed about that one, given the spontaneity of it. There were a few other Wookiee-themed cracks, too, but that's the one I remember the most.

16 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Sixteen - Game I Wish I Owned

Right now, at this moment, there are a few games I'd really like to have in my possession, but I'll narrow it down to the one I covet the most.

Fantasy Flight released copies of the Force & Destiny Beta at GenCon, and I've seen photographs of it on the social networks I frequent. I've become a big proponent of FFG's Star Wars RPGs over the past year or two, and I'd love to get a peek at what they're planning with F&D. I'll get my paws on it eventually, I'm sure, but for now I'm in total geek whiny mode about it.

Honorable mentions for games I wish I owned include the up-coming Star Wars Armada (fleet-level miniature space battles) and I'm really very curious about Dark Heresy 2nd edition (I did some work on the original, and I'd like to see what's new and different).

It's not just that I've done work for them lately, but Fantasy Flight has really become one of the companies whose products I anticipate the most.

15 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Fifteen - Favorite Convention Game

I don't get to play in a lot of games in the role of a player. When I've gone to GenCon, I've made a point of getting into a game or two, generally those run by friends. When my friends are running games, it's generally by invitation only and I'm definitely a lot more comfortable with the turn-out. Even if I don't know everyone at the table, I'm generally satisfied that my friend's friends are going to be good human beings who won't ruin the game for everyone else.

I'm not a huge fan of random convention games because they're sort of like boxes of chocolates--you never know what you're gonna get. I've had some bad experiences with the kinds of players who show up for such games, so I tend to be gun shy about them. That's not to say all players are bad! I've been in some good games, too. It really comes down to how the GM handles his players and whether or not he allows them to walk roughshod over everyone else at the table.

I could tell you stories about some really horrible convention games, but that's not what this is about. No, dear reader, this is about convention games I've enjoyed.

The Executor is big. Damn big. Like, super big.
Chris Witt (of the Order 66 podcast) ran a Saga Edition Star Wars game at GenCon 2009 that I remember fondly. That particular GenCon was the last with Saga Edition in print, as Wizards would announce the following January that they had chosen not to renew the license. If I recall correctly, there was some last-minute RPGA support, and an official adventure, "Murder on the Executor," was provided. Chris had a copy and decided to run it for myself and a few others.

I won't spoil the adventure, but I got to play a nerdy sort of Imperial computer technician. We were ordered to solve a murder, which resulted in few run-ins with bad guys, bad droids, and some intrigue. During the final battle, I recall running into the bad guy's ship and closing the entry hatch, then hacking it so he couldn't open it from outside. He was wearing heavy armor, which made him a pain in the butt to hit, but it also kept him from beating me to the hatch. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

I've also run plenty of games at conventions. My first was a Cyberpunk 2020 game I ran for R. Talsorian at GenCon 1997 in Milwaukee. I've also run a game or two for Green Ronin (Thieves' World) and Fantasy Flight Games (Midnight). I suppose if I was to pick one of those games, I think that 1997 Cyberpunk game would be my favorite.

The players took the roles of KGB agents sent to Night City to track down an escaped Soviet hacker. I had some good groups for that game, including the 2-3 groups of playtesters I had prior to running it "live" at the convention. I printed photographs of Russian soldiers I'd found in National Geographic Magazine and attached them to player "dossiers" in manila folders. I wanted the experience to be memorable for the players, and I let them keep the dossiers after the game.

It makes me wonder if any of those players remembers it or not.

14 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Fourteen - Best Convention Purchase

There's nothing quite like Nazi-eating dinosaurs.
My best convention purchase took place at GenCon in 2007. I had an interest in the ENnie Award winners that year, and a few of the titles I'd worked on were included on that particular list. Of all the ENnie Award-winning games I picked up, there's only one that I've pulled down and read again and again over the past seven years. It was the single RPG I didn't pack in a box when we left Rhode Island for California; instead, I put it in my backpack so I could read it on the way.

That game is Hollow Earth Expedition (affectionately referred to as HEX) by Exile Game Studios. It is, hands down, the best convention purchase I've ever made... and I've made quite a few.

I love just about everything about it, from the system to the flavor of the setting to the way it captures pulp so very, very well. The interior illustrations are entirely representative of the content, and the cover art is beautiful. All in all, it sparks my imagination, but it also leaves me guessing. It provides plenty of options, but doesn't straight-jacket me into using them all.

I've run a game or two of HEX since I bought it, though I've always made the mistake of running it at work. In the end, I've had trouble getting everyone to sit down at the table at the same damn time. Welcome to the world of video game production, especially during those busy periods when we all have a million things to do. I'm unsure if I'll be able to handle running anything but one-shot games at work, to be honest. But I'm digressing, aren't I?

Anyway, I'd really like to get a game of HEX running for the long term the next time the pulp bug bites me. Until then, I'll keep Hollow Earth Expedition handy. Maybe Exile will even release the long-awaited Revelations of Mars so I can send my players to the red planet.

13 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Thirteen - Most Memorable Character Death

Sort of like this, only the DM's orcs looked like Klingons.
I know I've had characters die in games before, but to be honest, I can't remember any specifics. I spend much of my time as a DM/GM/Moderator/Storyteller, and I've been inundated with both PC deaths, as well as the deaths of the multitudes of NPCs I've controlled at any single point in time. On the rare occasion I play RPGs, my characters are seldom killed... but they come damn close pretty often.

There was one death that I remember, though, which is memorable mostly because it upset me a little bit, and it's not something I'd condone in my own games. I was in high school at the time, and I'd started playing in a long-term AD&D game with a rather large, diverse player group. I was one of the youngest players, and there were a lot of new faces, but I knew one or two of them from school.

Long story short, we were all still in the 1st and 2nd level range. I was playing a Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric, Arkon Blackbone, and another player was my trusted companion and defender. During the party's travels, we encountered a group of monsters. I can't remember what kind of monsters they were, but during the battle I was knocked below zero hit points. I was stabilized, so I wasn't going to get any worse, but when the fight was over, the party discovered someone had cut my character's throat as he lay there unconscious.

As I came to understand it, this was someone's in-character action performed after a note had been secretly passed to the DM. Apparently, their character hated orcs, and wouldn't suffer one to travel with the group. I eventually found out which player was responsible, but by then it was too late and I'd put it behind me. At the time it happened, though, it felt low and mean-spirited.

The player who'd been assigned as my companion and protector came to my aid. He picked up my character's corpse and carried it back to town. At such an early level, we had few enough magic weapons in the party, and he owned one of them. He sacrificed his magic weapon to the local temple in exchange for a Raise Dead spell, which brought my character back to life.

My character lived for a long time after that, and I played him until I was literally sick of him. That gaming group's internal politics and drama were another reason I left it behind, but I learned a lot about people, players, and games in general in those days.

As I said, what happened to my character is something I'd never condone as a GM. Conflict in a player party is one thing when it's verbal, providing tension to character relationships. It's another thing entirely when it comes to blows and PCs start to die at the hands of their friends' characters. I don't care how "in-character" it might be for a player of mine to secretly kill another player's character, it's just plain mean. If I allowed such a thing to take place in my game, I'd be complicit in it, too.

So yeah, that's my most memorable character death. I suppose many of these recollections are liable to be happy ones, or at least mildly entertaining. This one's a little grimmer, but I think it serves as a lesson of sorts.

Capped in the head in an alley. What a way to go.

You'll have to forgive me, dear reader. There was a character death I'd forgotten about up until this moment, and I suppose I'll give you the low down after the fact rather than delete my original post. I think both are relevant.

I met a guy online who wanted to run a Star Wars d20 game a few years back. This was shortly after I had Ord Vaxal: Prison Planet of the Empire published in Dungeon Magazine, so I'm thinking this was late 2003/early 2004. Either way, I was excited to be playing Star Wars for once. I met up with the guy and the other player he found, and we created our toons.

As far as the game went, it lasted one session. We were investigating something Imperial-flavored on a water world, and while walking through the alleyways of a port town we were set upon by a street gang. The way he described them, they weren't anything to worry about, so we didn't. They ended up shooting at us, so we shot back. Then more of the guys showed up, and they started shooting us, too.

After taking down a couple of these guys, the rest of them (maybe ten in total) gunned us down pretty well. Rather than leaving us for dead in the alley after taking anything of value from us, the gang's leader put his blaster to my head and blew me away. He did the same to the other player's character, too.

I remember we were both sort of surprised and looked at each other with blank expressions. The GM said, "That was fun!" and started asking us what kinds of characters we wanted to play next. We hemmed and hawed a little, then made our excuses to leave. The other player and I, walking to our cars, laughed a little and agreed that we weren't coming back.

And we didn't.

12 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twelve - Old RPG I Still Play/Read

Go get 'em, Aragorn!
I've got a lot of older RPGs, and I take them all down at one time or another to read them. Having to pick just one is somewhat difficult, and defining which ones are "old" is also somewhat problematic (though in this case, I'll concentrate on RPGs that were published in the 90's or earlier).

I suppose I'd pick Middle-Eearth Role Playing (and its supplements) as the game I'll take down and read from time to time. Despite my issues with MERP (which I talked about in an earlier entry), there's a heck of a lot of worthwhile fluff in those old Iron Crown supplements. Outside of every single supplement those guys released under the MERP trademark, there's a good bit of Tolkien reference material to absorb within the pages of the Middle-Earth Campaign Guide, which was published in 1993.

The Middle-Earth Campaign Guide includes a wealth of information compiled from two prior MERP supplements, the Middle Earth Adventure Guidebooks #1 and #2. It's an awesome reference for any fan of Tolkien's work, as well as anyone who's running a game set in that world regardless of system mechanics. It even includes references so you know where the information can be found in Tolkien's published work.

As for the rest of the MERP library, ICE published plenty of supplements detailing regions from Angmar to Gondor. Most of these books I picked up are for MERP's second edition, though I have a handful of first edition MERP books, too. The first one I ever bought was Moria: The Dwarven City, which was released in 1984. I also picked up a bunch of adventures for 1st edition MERP on sale for about a buck apiece, and they're great places to look for plot seeds and inspiration.

See that cover? Angus McBride was an awesome artist.
And then there's the maps. ICE loved putting maps in everything, from large full-color geographical maps to maps of cities, buildings, villages, etc. I've got a whole stack of these in an old shoe box in my closet, and I love taking them down every so often just to remind myself they exist.

Even the smallest MERP supplements and adventures from the old days of fantasy role-playing are worthy of your attention if you can dig them up. Are you a big fan of Tolkien's tales and characters? Then you really should check them out.

Given my current love affair with The One Ring, my MERP library is bound to come in handy. How about you? Do you have any of the older MERP supplements? If so, do you ever break them out for a lazy afternoon of reading and re-reading?

11 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Eleven - Weirdest RPG Owned

HOL: Human Occupied Landfill
It takes a lot for me to consider any RPG "weird." Regardless of the setting, we're talking about a fantasy world, right? So stuff is liable to be different from the reality we know. There are some I'd consider a bit "different" or "kooky," though. If I had to pick just one of those, I'd probably choose HOL.

When HOL originally came out, I didn't consider it a game you could actually play. I thought of it more as satire with rules, similar to Violence: The Roleplaying Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed. After all, the acronym "HOL" stands for "Human Occupied Landfill," and the game itself is set on a planetary trashbin used as a dumping ground for, well, everything. The entire document is hand-written, and all the illustrations are presented inline with the text. It's incredibly humorous, irreverent, and vulgar, and it doesn't take itself very seriously.

None of this stopped a friend of mine from running it, and I suppose he had some measure of success at doing so. I remember trekking through this bizarre world of garbage, violence, and debauchery with Mr. Bungle blaring on the CD player in my garage. These were the days of our lives in the mid nineties, youngsters. Pull up a chair and listen to my tales of old.

HOL's character stats included "Greymatta," "Meat," "Mouth," "Feets," and "Nuts." Some of the more useful skills included "Organize Fundraiser," "Cause Hellish Agony," and one of my personal favorites, "That Psycho Bruce Lee Shit." Appendix 5 of HOL details several beings that might challenge players during play, such as Cannibalistic Accountants, Dump Technicians, and Sodomy Bikers. Obviously, this isn't a game for people with any interest in serious drama or soul searching.

As far as I know, HOL released a single supplement entitled Buttery Wholesomeness, and it contained a ton of new rules and options for characters. Things like random charts to give your character more depth, such as Table P, "Parental Misunderstanding." There's also a chart of homeworlds to roll on, including vacation spots like "Hug Me IV: The Porcupine Planet" and "Fabio IV: The Beefcake Planet" (yes, all the planets are "Name IV"). You can even get a totem for your character, choosing from powerful and unique options like Parakeet, Lemming, and Earwig (the best of them all).

And if that's not enough, you get a free RPG named "Freebase" tucked quietly away within the scrumptious center of Buttery Wholesomness. Laid out in a small book formatted to resemble the presentation of 1st Edition AD&D, Freebase is billed as "Live action role playing in the World of Reality". It's just as funny, irreverent, and debased as HOL, and is a satire within a satire. Even the alignment system makes sense in a twisted sort of way.

I'd never run HOL, but I still like reading through it from time to time, especially when I need a good laugh. I find something new just about every single time I do this. I'm not sure how hard it is to find these days, but if you're looking for something to give you a chuckle or two, and your humor tends towards the scatological, you'll probably benefit from the purchase.

NOTE: It appears as if second editions of both HOL and Buttery Wholesomeness are available on Amazon, so what are you waiting for?

10 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Ten - Favorite Tie-In Novel/Game Fiction

The best Dark Sun novel out there.
I'm going to tell you a horrible secret. You have to promise not to tell anyone. Okay? Are we golden? Your lips are sealed? Do you solemnly swear? Right.

I don't tend to read tie-in novels or game fiction. There. I said it.

What this means, dear reader, is I've never read any of the Forgotten Realms novels (and that includes the ones my friend Bob Salvatore wrote about some mini-maxing Drow). I've purposefully avoided the Dragonlance books. I tried reading Troy Dennings' Dark Sun novels, The Prism Pentad, but I hated pretty much every single character and couldn't get past the first part of book two.

Now that I've spilled my guts, let me add that I have read game fiction/tie-in novels and enjoyed them, but there are only a handful of them.

The one at the top of that list is The Brazen Gambit by Lynn Abbey, with her second Dark Sun novel, Cinnabar Shadows, at number two. The Rise and Fall of a Dragon King trails close behind those. Lynn has a way of writing that has always drawn me in, and it doesn't matter what she's writing about. I cared about Pavek, precisely because he was an anti-hero. Lynn makes that world--Athas and the city state of Urik--come alive, grounding it in such a way that it's utterly believable.

That's not to say other authors who write game fiction won't be the same way. I'm positive I could pick up a Drizzt novel and enjoy the hell out of it. Thing is, I never did, and it's not because I don't like Salvatore's writing (because I do). It's because I was never interested in reading about the Forgotten Realms, so I never invested money in the associated novels. With Dark Sun, it was different because I was running a DS campaign at the time. When I started reading the tie-in novels, I was doing it as a form of research and immersion. Once I realized I was enjoying the books, particularly Lynn's, it was already too late to turn back.

Starfall was an awesome Star*Drive anthology.
I guess the take-away is that if I'm interested in a setting, generally because I'm running a game in that world or working on a freelance project related to it, I will definitely pick up and read the associated fiction (if I haven't already).

As an aside, I also enjoyed all the Alternity/Star*Drive related fiction that was released by TSR in support of that game line. I absolutely adored Alternity, and I still do. It might very well have been my favorite game that I never get to play if my tenure with Cyberpunk 2020 hadn't lasted so much longer. I really wish the game had done better out of the gate, because it had a lot going for it. I still have all my books, so there's that.

So, yeah. Lynn Abbey's Dark Sun novels are pure shining gold. Go buy them.

Want to tell me about your favorite tie-in novel/game fiction? Feel free!

09 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Nine - Favorite Dice Set

My favorite dice set. They have killed many PCs (a blatant lie).
Like every other gamer in the entire world, I've got way too many dice. I've had something like thirty years to collect them, right? I have sets that I used religiously growing up that I don't even look at these days. Not to mention all the specialty dice (yes, Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion, I'm looking at you).

I'm a pretty simple guy, though. I have aesthetics, sure, but I like dice that feel good in my hand, even if they don't roll particularly well. Of course, they're dice. They're supposed to be random. I take that to mean that sometimes they will roll low, sometimes they will roll high, and most of the time they will roll average. That's something I can live with.

My favorite dice set, pictured, is a sort of marbled green from Chessex. The dice in the background are the others I keep in my usual dice bag. They're all pretty similar, but I like the jade green mottled color best of all. If I'm running D&D, I'll usually pull two sets from my bag--the green one, and whatever other one I feel like using. Typically the second set will be either the purple or the red ones.

I think that's enough minutiae of my dice-rolling habits for one day. What about you guys?

08 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Eight - Favorite Character

An old sketch of Deadeye.
I'm a career game master. What this means is that I rarely do anything but run games for my friends. I'm pretty well open if my players want to run something, but I've tended to be the one behind the screen for the majority of my gaming life. I used to say, "I've been riding the GM horse so long I'm practically a centaur," for a reason.

I did a lot more playing in my youth, but I guess I liked being behind the screen too much. Players are more than happy with that arrangement, for the most part. Not everyone's made to run RPGs, and that's perfectly okay. I tend to get good marks from my players, so I assume I'm doing just fine. That's not to say I don't miss playing once in a while. I do. It's strange feeling when you don't have to worry about more than one character.

After I was introduced to the Cyberpunk RPG by a good friend, he and I ended up playing it a lot. I'd run games for him, and he'd run games for me. The character I eventually settled on playing was patterned after a dime store Billy the Kid. I went in all the way, too. He had no cyberware outside of his optics (one of them black and "dead"), and all his weapons were analog--an old .45 Peacemaker, a Winchester repeater, and a Bowie knife.

I remember my friend's declaration that I'd never survive the first game with a load-out like that. Either he went easy on me, or I proved him wrong. Whatever the case, I ended up playing Deadeye for a long, long time. It's the one character I've gotten the most mileage out of, and I've even let him make cameos in some of the games I've run in the past (and not as a dreaded "GMPC," either).

As the sessions went by, Deadeye changed. He got somewhat deeper as a character, more than just a sociopathic cowboy-punk with a chip on his shoulder. He lost three out of four limbs--Cyberpunk was kind of brutal that way--but that was sort of par for the course. His "outfit" (CP2020 slang for "gear") upgraded, too. The chronology is somewhat complicated at times, but like any character you play for a long time, it makes sense that it would be that way.

I don't know how many years it's been since I sat in a player's chair and played Deadeye. Maybe twenty years? A little less, maybe? But I'll always remember him and the fun I had playing him. I'll let him show up in any future CP2020 games I run if it's appropriate to do so, but I won't let him overshadow the PCs. After all, he's had his time in the spotlight. It's time to let someone else save the day.

07 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Seven - Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned

Having gills really pays off on Poseidon.
Intellectual RPG, huh? Does that mean "complicated" or "thought-provoking"? I'll go with the latter, I suppose. It's easier that way.

I have to say that Blue Planet is probably the most intellectual RPG I own. That's not to say it doesn't have room for action, but it certainly got me thinking back when I picked up the first edition at GenCon '97. Jeff Barber even signed my copy, which I really appreciated.

Eventually, after Fantasy Flight Games took the reins and released the second edition, I went all in and picked up every new supplement as they were released. It was a sad day when the line was brought to a close. It looks like Capricious Games has the rights, though, so maybe they'll get around to publishing new material at some point.

Anyway. Intellectual. Right.

Blue Planet has a lot going for it. The setting is really, really deep (and I don't mean that from an oceanic standpoint, though it might be implied). Given that, there's so much a GM can do with it that isn't strictly defined in the source material. It's about exploration, exploitation, new horizons, and old nightmares. It's part cyberpunk, part trans-human, and part space adventure. It's gritty, too. Plus, you can play dolphins and killer whales. For real. Eat your heart out, David Brin.

Whatever you do, don't call him Shamoo.
There's a good bit of science in the game, as well as a lot of conjecture. It's not so science heavy that it alienates people like me, and that's probably what I appreciated most--its accessibility. I always dreamed of starting a Blue Planet game set on Earth for a number of sessions, then bringing the characters to Poseidon (by hook or by crook) and introducing them first-hand to this new land of opportunity and adventure.

I've never actually run a game of BP. That hasn't been for lack of trying. I came really close a couple of times, but the groups fell apart just before we could get the games started. I'd like to think the game mechanics are solid. I always thought they were good on paper, but I haven't used them in practice. I hope I get a chance to someday, but when I start skipping around between this system and that system, I don't get much done.

06 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Six - Favorite RPG Never Get to Play

One of the games that defined me.
I have so many favorite RPGs that I never get to play. It's sort of disturbing, really. In some cases, I'm in love with the concept of a certain game, system, or setting, but for whatever reason it never comes up in my rotation. It's tough to narrow down. I suppose if I have to pick just one of them, the one game I'd love to break out and play (assuming my players would submit to it), it'd probably be Cyberpunk 2020.

The original "black box" Cyberpunk RPG was one of my first true loves when it came to tabletop RPGs. When Cyberpunk 2020 came out, I played it, too. It was my go-to game. Being a designer at heart, even in those days, I fiddled with the game and house-ruled it all to hell and back. All those little house rules are still documented on the web, too. Cyberpunk was one of those games that made me want to get into the industry in some kind of creative role.

The last time I ran a Cyberpunk game was over four years ago, shortly after I started working at 38 Studios in Maynard, Massachusetts. I even started a blog about the game, which was called "The New Untouchables," but I never got very far in updating it. I think we had three or four sessions in total, but for some reason it fell apart. I'm thinking it had something to do with work getting busy, which is always a concern when I'm running games in the office. I'd start that game up again in a heartbeat if I could.

Wow. Four years gone by. The way time flies by never ceases to amaze me, and not in a good way.

I still have a shrink-wrapped copy of this.
Anyway, my Cyberpunk gaming library is pretty big. I have everything R. Talsorian ever released, more than one copy in some cases. As bloated as the game got over the years, it was still lots of fun. I used the system for a lot more than Cyberpunk, too. I adapted the movie "Aliens" to the system, eventually updating it with material gleaned from Leading Edge's Aliens Adventure Game and the Aliens Technical Manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood.

When R. Talsorian started developing their Fuzion! system, I didn't switch over. I have a copy of Cyberpunk V.3 (as well as the Bubblegum Crisis and Armored Trooper VOTOMS books), but it wasn't what I was looking for. Call me a grognard or whatever you like, but nothing beats the simplicity and flat probabilities of the original 2020, even if it does require a number of house rules to make some of its flaws less inconvenient.

About the only game that inspired me the way that Cyberpunk 2020 did was AD&D's Dark Sun campaign setting. Seeing as I ran Dark Sun in a similar manner to Cyberpunk, I guess it's not terribly surprising. Maybe I can talk about Dark Sun more in another #RPGaDay entry.

05 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Five - Most Old School RPG Owned

This is a tough question, since I have trouble defining what an "old school" RPG really is. Even then, if I narrow my library down to those RPGs commonly considered as old school, I'd have a short list of titles. It's hard to pick which one is more old school than the others, because the definition of "old school" is so variable. I can pick one, sure, but I think I'll have to list a few others. Honorable mentions, if you will.

I'm not really an old school guy. I understand the appeal, and I've played such games and enjoyed them. I prefer a little mechanical definition to my characters, though, and eight attribute scores written on a piece of lined paper isn't enough. I like systems with skills, I like systems with merits and flaws, I like systems that provide rules for various common circumstances. That's not to say I can't wing things, or make rulings on the fly, since I do that all the time. I just like a little more framework than systems like original D&D provide.

I have to say that The Morrow Project is pretty old school, IMO, and of the old school games I have, I consider it the best one. The system focuses on stats and not skills (up until they borrowed the BRPG skill system for it) with heavy combat mechanics that can be somewhat complicated at times. The black and white line art, layout, and organization certainly give it an old school feeling, too. It's one of my favorite games of all time, mostly because the setting--a post-nuclear apocalypse where the world has devolved into whatever the GM decides to make it--is so damn compelling.

Is Morrow Project the most old school RPG in my library? Oh, I don't know. It's a matter of opinion. I've got the original Twilight: 2000Star Frontiers, Gamma World, AD&D, 2nd edition AD&D, Reich Star, 1st edition WFRP, StormbringerMERP, and a number of Palladium's old titles, to name a few. Which of them is "old schoolier" than the others? I suppose I can leave that up to you, dear reader.

So, yeah. There you go. As always, commentary is welcome.

04 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Four - Most Recent RPG Purchase

Did you hear me "squee"? Did you?
I'm trying not to over think this question, but I'm assuming by "Most Recent RPG Purchase," I'm supposed to tell you all about the last thing I bought for any RPG, not necessarily core rules. So here goes.

Yesterday, I went down to my FLGS and picked up a copy of The Darkening of Mirkwood supplement for The One Ring RPG. I've been waiting for this one to hit the shelves for a while, let me tell you. I was repeatedly tempted to pre-order it from Cubicle 7, but the money was always better spent on necessities... until today.

I absolutely adore The One Ring. As a long-time Tolkien fanatic, it's the first time I've seen a Middle Earth game that is so close and faithful to the source material. Iron Crown's Middle Earth Role-Playing game (MERP) was plenty flavorful, but the system was a clunky, indecipherable version of Rolemaster that Middle Earth had been grafted onto.

Don't get me wrong, I love the wealth and depth of information in the MERP supplements, but I could never get past the system mechanics, or the way magic items (and spells) we so damn prevalent. In my mind, the only magic-users in Tolkien's world were powerful being like the Istari, Sauron, or the Witch King of Angmar, and the only magical weapons were things like Glamdring, Anduril, and Sting. Why does Lobelia Sackville-Baggins need a magical umbrella, anyway?

After MERP, I picked up Decipher's The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Unfortunately for me, it hewed too closely to Peter Jackson's films and not closely enough to what I consider canonical Tolkien. The system wasn't all that impressive, either, and 98% of the illustrations consisted of still photographs from the films. As much as I like Jackson's adaptations (which is to say I have a love/hate relationship with them), I have a hard time considering them to be something I'd want to spend my time playing or running.

In the intervening years, I've attempted a number of times to adapt Tolkien to other game systems, from West End Games' D6 system to Chaosium's Stormbringer and Avalon Hill's Runequest. Those attempts never turned out quite right, and I never put any of them to the test. The closest I came was running a 2nd Edition AD&D game set in Middle Earth where the players portrayed orcs attempting to retrieve a bauble in a barrow for one of the Nazgul (I later adapted that adventure to Midnight and ran it for FFG at one GenCon or another).

With The One Ring, I don't have to fake it anymore. The game is marvelous and I can't say enough good things about it. The only trouble I have is when players inevitably make comparisons to Jackson's films, but even then I can smile, nod, and let it pass. If anything, Jackson got the visuals and grandeur of the setting down pretty well, and if that helps folks imagine the game better, more power to them.

03 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Three - First RPG Purchased

When I was eleven, all I wanted was to be the guy on the left.
I don't remember where I bought it (or, rather, where my mom bought it for me), but I distinctly remember having the Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn boxed set and eagerly reading every bit of it from stem to stern, over and over. I'd learned a little about the setting in the Endless Quest book, Villains of Volturnus, but beyond that I was a complete newbie. Even though I'd never played a real RPG at that time, I was still very interested in them. Not to mention Star Frontiers, as a science fiction RPG, was right up my alley, Star Wars fanboy that I was.

As much as I wanted to play the game, I didn't know anyone else who played RPGs when I was eleven years old. As a result, Star Frontiers joined my copies of Monster Manual and Monster Manual II as a sort of embryonic gaming reference library. It was all fodder for my imagination. I'd read the rules, I'd pour over the maps, and I'd make one character after another in the hopes that someday I'd be able to actually play. My favorite parts were the species write-ups, complete with cut-away pictures of their alien anatomy (including the Sathar that was obviously dead and laying in some kind of dissection tray).

There's no glowing fingers on these guys.
Try as I might, I had some issues with the rules of the game at that age. Being unfamiliar with RPG rules in general, a lot of the concepts were Greek to me. I understood the basics, sure, but without being able to use them in practice, I never had much chance to really learn how they worked and functioned together. I was very much a child who learned by doing. I got the concept, but was never quite able to grok the execution.

At some point I ended up losing my copy of Star Frontiers, and I don't remember why or when. As an adult I found a huge stack of SF material on a used games shelf and I eagerly snatched it up. Going over that stuff for the first time in decades was pretty magical. I remembered everything, and with my years of gamer experience I read the rules and wondered why in the hell I'd been so confused by them as a kid.

#RPGaDay: Day Two - First RPG Gamemastered (belated)

The first game I ever gamemastered.
As I've said, my best friend and I used to play in his big brother's games. Eventually we wanted to play whenever we wanted to, and that meant running our own games for each other. While we were casing the mall, as young teens were apt to do in the mid to late eighties, we happened upon TSR's Top Secret/S.I. boxed set at B. Dalton Booksellers... and it was only $20! We looked it over and both ended up buying a copy. The game had everything! Maps! Books! Dice! A GM screen! The only thing it didn't come with was a pencil, and we had plenty of those. What a score!

I'm not sure of the exact timeline, but I'm pretty sure we were running games for one another within a week. Though I don't have a flawless recollection of the first game I ever ran, I'm pretty sure it involved my friend breaking into a suspect's house to tap some phones, and my friend's character ended up blasting the guy who lived there with a Browning Hi-Power (right in the face). That sort of made the point of tapping the phones moot, but we were young. Shooting stuff was the best part of the game back then.

All those memories sort of gel together nowadays. It's hard to pinpoint any chronological order. We had fun, though, enough that we continued to play and run games with each other for months. Taking Top Secret/S.I. out and looking through it provides an incredibly strong sense of nostalgia for me. I almost feel like showing it to my son and running him through a scenario where he has to tap some phones. He'll probably cap the suspect, too.

I still have that boxed set, along with all the supplements I bought (as well as a few more I've picked up over the years). I still feel that Top Secret/S.I. was one of the best games of its time, both for some of its innovations as well as the quality of the material and its ease of use. In fact, it's one of those games I'd actually consider dusting off and running these days, and that's no small feat.

#RPGaDay: Day One - First RPG Played (belated)

What's the first RPG I ever played?
I didn't fight orcs. I fought Charlie. He was bad ass.

That's sort of a tough question, because it was so long ago. Still, I'm pretty sure I can make an accurate guess. I want to say it was Palladium's Revised Recon, a game my best friend's older brother would run in a rather brutal fashion. We rarely lived through any of his scenarios. I half think he enjoyed watching us struggle and ultimate die in those games. I'm pretty sure we didn't really care, at least not at first. It was fun to play out all the Vietnam war movies we'd been brought up on, despite our sadistic game master.

When I first started playing role-playing games, I was in seventh grade. My experience with tabletop gaming was pretty slim by that point, and largely consisted of me reading Monster Manual and Monster Manual II. The reason I'd purchased those two tomes in the first place went back to my love of the Endless Quest books, which I'd picked up at an elementary school book fair in sixth grade. I'd read and re-read those things for hours at a time. I kept a good stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books, too, as well as one or two of the Time Machine series.

It's safe to say that in sixth grade, at the age of 11, I had only a passing idea of what role-playing games were. I'd learned from a neighborhood friend that Dungeons & Dragons was a real game where, unlike the Endless Quest books, you could do anything you wanted to. It wasn't about choosing between two or three pages. You could also play any kind of character you liked. I thought that sounded swell, but I didn't know anyone who played those games. Even my neighborhood friend was barred from playing them due to his mother's strict religious views (our conversations on the topic often took place in whispered confidence away from her prying ears).

I'd picked up the Monster Manual books because they looked really interesting, and because I wanted to know more about the creatures I was "fighting" in the Endless Quest books. I didn't know what any of the stats meant (though I was pretty sure what "Alignment" was all about), but I ate up the fluff and descriptive text like a starving child. I'm pretty sure that at some point I'd bought (or had my mother buy) an actual RPG boxed set (more on this in another entry), but the rules threw my little mind for a loop and I never did anything with it. It didn't help that I had no one to play it with.

Seventh grade pretty much changed everything. My best friend's older brother was a "real" gamer - none of that juvenile Endless Quest stuff for him. He played strategy games (I recall his stack of Avalon Hill bookcase games) and RPGs, and as a result, so did my new best friend. I would go to my friend's house and we'd end up begging his older brother to run something for us. Oftentimes, he'd have a game scheduled with friends and invite us to join in. That's where Revised Recon came into the picture.

After that first game, I was hooked for life. It opened the doors to other games, including AD&D, The Morrow Project, Kill the Commie Bastards, and Palladium's Robotech RPG. I really miss the fresh naivete of those days sometimes, because as time has passed and I've become exposed to more and more games, those old ones offer little more than nostalgia. I don't think I'd ever run a Revised Recon game today, mostly because the system mechanics are so archaic.

Then again...

#RPGaDay? Who knew?

Why didn't anyone tell me about this? RPG a Day is exactly the sort of thing I like to do, and I'm just finding out about it now.

I've got two days of catching up to do, and day three to finish after that. Oh, Internet. You're such a merciless taskmaster...