Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reading, Prepping, and Playing Part II

Time passes, right? So, six months or so ago, I posted a list of what I'd been working on at that point.

Well, it's been six months or so. How about an update?

We Didn't Playtest This At All
This has become my pick-up and play game of choice. Well, this and Win, Lose or Banana. It's not a deep game, but it's some of the best filler I've ever played.

Dungeon Twister
The XBox game has been pushed back to ... January, at last check. That doesn't stop me from playing it.

I've been demoing this at several local game stores, and it always goes over well. It's a great game and is well worth the time to learn (and play).

Hex Hex
I've been playing Hex Hex XL, actually. I liked the original, and this is clearer and more accessible. I do love this game, though.

Dungeons & Dragons
I'm playing 4th Edition, and I'm still enjoying it. All of the complaints I've been seeing about the game are about things that ... aren't in the game. No, it's not 3rd Edition. Or 2nd. No, there aren't any real rules for "getting into character," or even effective guidelines. But that didn't stop us in 2nd or 3rd Edition - why are we holding 4th to a different standard? And yes, I'm serious.

Runequest II
I recently acquired this one because I saw Clockwork and Chivalry, which requires it. You see, several of my friends are hugely into Steampunk (which I need to discuss sometime). Part of the steampunk culture these days includes music, especially Abney Park. And there is an RPG coming that is based on their music. That RPG is being written by Cakebread & Walton - the two individuals who wrote Clockwork & Chivalry (which, by the way, I also ordered). That said, however, I like RuneQuest on its own, even though I can see its BRB roots.

Shadows of the Apt
One of the most dangerous things for me is Amazon's recommendations, because they ... well ... keep getting more accurate. When you combine that with the fact that I can very easily order books for my Kindle from anywhere, well, it's a dangerous thing. But I digress.

A few months ago, it suggested Empire in Black & Gold to me. I devoured it. It's sparking all kinds of game-related ideas. I think this setting could very easily be adapted to work in ... well ... RuneQuest would be easiest, I think. And it'd be a good fit.

Hamlet's Hit Points
I ordered it. Remember how I keep claiming that games and literature are two completely different things? In this book, Robin Laws reminds us that occasionally the twain shall meet. A solid grasp of literary theory can improve your game. While it's more useful for GM's, it's not a bad idea for players to have a glance at this one.

The Laundry RPG
I loved the novels (Start with The Atrocity Archives), and the RPG catches the flavor of the books very well. It's hard to do a book that is this funny without losing sight of the essential horror of the Cthulhu Mythos. It uses the BRP system (with some tweaks), but that makes it compatible with Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green.

Speaking of which, Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity has finally arrived after two and a half years of waiting. And it's good. Good enough that I'm seriously considering running a campaign (or a one-shot). It'd be liberally flavored with the Laundry, however. It'd pretty much have to be.

I love the FATE system. I make no bones about this. Where Starblazer Adventures is space opera, Diaspora has more realism as a goal. A hard SF FATE-based game ... wow. And there are lots of harvestable ideas in here.

Oh - and here's an idea my wife was shown in Portland that you might like: Add Aspects to D&D. One Aspect and one Fate Point per level. That way, your characters will grow personalities along with their increasing power level.

Here's one of the things I like about Diaspora: Characters don't increase their power levels significantly. It'll frustrate some players, it's true, but I like the way character advancement works. A lot.

Blood & Honor
I make no bones about being a fan of John Wick's work. I have a complete set of the first edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. It has a few flaws here and there, but, for the most part, I love it. Orkworld, on the other hand, had a great setting with an almost completely unworkable system. Blood & Honor uses the same system as Houses of the Blooded, but it actually works on my Kindle without a 90-second delay between page turns. And it's a return to the Samurai genre of game that he loves so very much. And, before you ask, yes, he does continue the Adoration of the Katana.

Worth picking up? I'm not sure yet. I'll let you know when I've had a bit more time to read.

Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist
When the Open Design team offered to send a review copy of this one to me, I warned them that I'm not currently playing any Pathfinder games, so I might not be able to do it justice. I do have a friend who is a master at snooping out loopholes and broken things in games, so I asked him to take a look. After a few minutes on my Kindle, he handed it back to me. "Seems balanced," he said.

The PDF is only twelve pages long, but - even as a non-Pathfinder player - I can see how this one opens up the Alchemist class (and has answers that the base class is vague on). There are ideas in here that I can use in some of my Steampunk (and Clockpunk) gaming, but not as many as with a setting or concept book. There are Feats that can be tweaked into Aspects for FATE or adjusted into skills or specializations in other games, but it will take work.

While reading through it, I decided to estimate how much I'd be willing to pay for this. See, I received a download link without a price. My guess? $8. I'd be willing to pay $8 for it, if I were playing Pathfinder. Actual price? $3.95. Not a bad buy.

Johannes Cabal
There are now two Johannes Cabal books. The first, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, had me howling with laughter within the first two pages. Book two, Johannes Cabal the Detective is just as funny, and turns the steampunk elements up a bit, too. Two of the funniest books I've read in the last few years.

I have more pre-orders and print copies of various books enroute, too. I'm going to be very busy reading to stay caught up. Don't worry: I'll continue to share the best parts with you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making It Your Game: House Rules

When I mentioned a few weeks ago that my friend Wade had tweaked the rules to octaNe for our game, it never occurred to me that anyone would consider changing rules to fit your specific group or needs would be odd or unusual.

And that, alone, needs thought.

I don't know that I've ever played in an RPG where there wasn't a house rule somewhere. They're not necessarily rules that make huge differences - sometimes, they soften a particularly unforgiving part of the game. Sometimes, they clarify a vague rule. And they're another way to fight munchkinism. And, lastly, they set expectations under our Social Contract.

I played in a GURPS game a few years ago that had so many house rules that they called it "CURPS." Chris, the GM, had been running it for so long he knew which advantages and disadvantages caused problems and in what combinations. And with which players.

To counter this, he had a long handout that we got at character generation. No attributes higher than 15. If you choose X, you cannot have Y. These weren't set in stone for everyone - he knew that not all players were equal problems - but they provided good guidelines, and we could negotiate if there was something on the list that we desperately needed.

Occasionally, I run into house rules for board games. Bounty, for example. The rules have some .... issues. They're poorly-translated and don't cover all eventualities, which leaves players to determine what to do in certain situations. And the rule for buying a second ship broke the game. We house-ruled it to prevent the purchase of a second boat.

There are also House Rules which aren't game-specific:

If you cannot stack another die of the same type on top of a possibly-cocked die without tipping it over, it's cocked and should be re-rolled.
If the cocked die is part of a pool of dice, re-roll the entire pool, not just the cocked die.
Dice which fall off of the table (or other rolling surface) should be re-rolled.
Don't touch anyone else's dice without permission.
Don't roll dice unless it's your turn.

The GM gets whatever seat they want. The host gets second pick. Everyone else gets to fight for their seat.

The GM should never bear the burden of providing food and beverages.
If the host is providing food, a list should be made available to everyone else with the understanding that players who want something else should provide their own.
If you're not bringing food (and are not the GM or the Host), bring a couple of bucks to chip in for the food. Or provide food next time.

Table Talk
Is acceptable, provided it doesn't get in the way of the game - unless the GM says otherwise.
Don't tell the current player what to do unless they ask for help or advice.

I don't think it's that odd, by the way, that there are so many dice-related rules. In fact, the relationship of gamers to dice led to a book I'll be ordering on my next payday: The Bones: Us and Our Dice. It's from the same team behind Things We Think About Games, which was brilliant.

And remember how I keep telling people that Your Game Is Not Literature? In the next few weeks, I will be ordering Hamlet's Hit Points. It's by Robin Laws, who brought us Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering and Feng Shui.

Want me to buy a book? Get him to write it.

Tonight, I have a potluck to attend. My weekly game group is celebrating eight years of gaming together. I think I have a lot to say about that - but not yet. It'll keep for another week or two. Meanwhile, here is a Geeklist I put together last year, which lists all the games played in the first year of game night.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Character Generation Project: All Flesh Must Be Eaten

A slight change in how I'll be doing these (based on feedback): I'm not going to bother making characters for myself unless I think I have something to add to what Stephanie did. I'm also going to tack my analysis (if any) to the end of Stephanie's questionnaire. My commentary will be italicized until the very end of the questionnaire.

Those of you who are new to the blog will find what this project is all about here, and my wife's process is here.

Without further ado, here is Stephanie's character (and questionnaire) for All Flesh Must Be Eaten (It's worth noting that I don't have the Revised Edition, which may clear up some of the issues Stephanie had):

CGP: AFMBE FrontWhich game is this for?
All Flesh Must Be Eaten

How long did it take you to generate the character?
A good chunk of a day, off and on - I kept getting distracted and irritated by the system.
She's not joking. It took her close to eight hours to finish this one.

What was your character concept going into generation?
Jayne from Firefly - I wanted someone who could fight and shoot but who wasn't much of a thinker.

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting? Did this influence your decision-making process during character generation?
Yes and no - I felt like it was driving me toward a rather bland, average character.
Much like with Fvlminata, the dedicated pool of attribute points tripped her up.

CGP: AFMBE BackHow much control did you feel like you had during character generation?
I felt like I could use the skills to flesh out the character, and the qualities and drawbacks would help in the role-playing experience beyond just the die rolls.

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?
I fought the game, and the game won. I wanted to create a character that was more heavily into fighting and not much of a thinker, and it was hard to get something that wasn't balanced.

Do you like the character you ended up with?
Eh. Not a huge fan, but I think I could play him.

Do you think your character fits your concept?
Sort of - he's pretty beefy as a fighter, I think, and only an average thinker.

Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically?
Figuring out the mechanics in general - they were buried pretty far in the book, and the character generation section only said that high numbers were good.
Adding to the fun: AFMBE's system chapter starts with several optional rolling methods before explaining the basic method of play.

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected?

What changes would you have made to the character generation process?
Making the range of attributes a bit broader, so that it's possible for even a survivor-level character to have a noticeable advantage in one area and a disadvantage in another area.
I think we had a similar issue in Fvlminata, where the number of points for attributes had a similar impact on character generation.

Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?
Not really - it was very easy to create a balanced character that isn't awful at anything.

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?
I was in a zombie frame of mind.
It's true.  She'd been reading a lot of zombie fiction.  Most notably, Feed, Boneshaker, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I was not surprised at all when she moved AFMBE to the front of the list. I recently acquired Shambles, and I expect it won't sit idle for long.

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?
I kept having to walk away from the generation process to keep from getting completely frustrated, which I'm not used to having to do.
In the spreadsheet we're using for the project, I'd rated this as Medium/Medium Heavy.  I'm terrified of how she will handle Blood of Heroes or even GURPS.

Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?
Possibly, but I feel like he might be kind of boring.
I think this is a strength of GURPS - the "Quirks."  There's not really anything similar in AFMBE.

Does this character make you want to play this game?
No - it seems like this game would be full of characters that are roughly the same, attribute-wise.
If no-one is playing an Inspired and it's a Survivor-Level game, this complaint makes complete sense - 20 points split among 6 attributes are not going to lead to a huge amount of diversity.

Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.?
Seriously, a snapshot of "you will need to roll this and add this to let your character do this" in the character generation section is a good thing. Or at least explaining the mechanics clearly in the mechanics section, because this game buried the basics big time.
I have a lot of AFMBE books.  I LIKE the game - but this is a valid point.  I wonder if the revised edition has a better layout.

Looking at the character, I see that you only bought two points in Qualities - Survivors get 15 points. Were there just no good Qualities?
Sort of. There wasn't anything that really fit the character concept. So I left it as unspent points.

What game do you think you'll be doing next?
Something simpler. Or something that guides you through a bit better.  Or both.  We'll see.

For now, at least, I think All Flesh Must Be Eaten is headed back to the shelf.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

In Defense of Lighter Fare

A few Wednesdays ago, I noticed someone leaving game night a bit early. So I quickly moved to intercept.
"Leaving so soon?"

"Yeah. Everyone is in games, and I don't feel comfortable playing those ... strategy ones."

Earlier that evening, she had played Ca$h'n Gun$ with me. "You do realize," I reminded her, "That you've already played at least one strategy game this evening."

It led to a lively discussion about what is and is not strategy. Maybe she won't be as scared to try something deeper next time.

I also promised to bring some lighter games the following week.

Lighter doesn't mean "less strategic," or - more importantly - "less fun."

There was a lot of backlash on BoardGameGeek when Dixit won the Spiel des Jahres. The consensus was, "It's just a party game! There's no depth to it!"

I think Wikipedia sums up the SdJ very nicely:
The award is given by a jury of German boardgame critics, who review games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months. The games considered for the award are family-style games; wargames, role-playing games, collectible card games, and other complicated, highly-competitive, or hobbyist games are outside the scope of the award.
Read that again if you need to.  Especially that last sentence.

Lighter games are essential to our hobby.  Seriously.

When you were a kid, was your first game Advanced Squad Leader or was it Candyland?

There are a lot of lighter games that can be used as gateways into deeper board gaming - and some that are just plain fun.  We actually play them a lot on Wednesdays - either to build bridges with the less hardcore or to fill time between other games.

Here are a few of our favorite lighter games:

Blokus is light, it's fun, small children can play it, and it's eye-catching.  And it's non-threatening to non-gamers.  It's an excellent gateway game. Its relatively fast play time makes it decent filler (it's a little too long to be good filler).

No Thanks is filler, but it's filler I can play with just about anyone.  Even the wargamers in our group enjoy this one.  It's cutthroat, vicious, brutal, and clever as hell.

We Didn't Playtest This At All has rapidly become one of my favorite fillers - the games numerous expansions allow you to gradually increase to complexity without the casual gamers noticing.  It's fast-playing a simple and everything Fluxx wants to be. I've never had a game go more than ten minutes. The publisher - Asmadi Games also makes Win, Lose, or Banana which is the best $1 game I own, bar none.

Identik was another of the SdJ nominees this year.  This one isn't a strategic game, but it's fun. It's a drawing game where drawing skill is absolutely not required. It's more important that you be good at describing what you can see - a poor description hurts your score as well as that of your opponents.

Leaping Lemmings is a solid introduction to wargaming, cleverly disguised as a children's game.  I was a P500 purchaser of this one, and do not regret that decision in the slightest.  A few of our wargamers on Wednesdays have looked at it - I'm not sure if they've played it, yet, or not.

Generally, when someone is new at Game Night, we'll play a few of these with them to see how they react.  How people play some of these can give clues about how they'll play some of the other games that look more complicated.  They also weed out poor sports pretty quickly.

And now an unrelated matter:
There will be a Dungeon Twister tournament at SCARAB in January.  It's notable for being the first major North American tournament since the release of Prison.  Geoff Heintzelman is organizing, and it's possible that Sam Miuccio and myself will also be present (the three of us are the LIDT regional coordinators for North America).  It'll be the first time all three of us will be in the same place at the same time, and we hope to get some plotting and scheming done.  It's also possible that we may have other LIDT visitors from France (finances permitting - and I hope they do).  Ludically has graciously granted us some prize support (A copy of Prison and several expansions).  Even if you're not in the South Carolina area, you are welcome to participate.  In fact, I very much hope to see a few of you there.

Next week: Character Generation Project #2: All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

OctaNe - Wade's View

Just a quick Thursday update post:

Remember how a month or so ago, I talked about an OctaNe game that I'd been able to play, and how much fun it was?

Now, Wade (the GM), has posted his overview.

And, because I haven't plugged it in a while, please remember that you can also read this blog on your Kindle.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fvlminata Dice Probabilities

In my post earlier today, I said, "I showed the game (and its probability curve, which you can see below) to one of my more math-oriented friends."

I forgot when revising the post that I had removed the probability curve image.


Here it is, in all its twitch-inducing glory.