Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Here's an oddity for you: I'm spending a week not talking about gaming. Nor will I be playing games tonight at my usual gathering.

Everything will be back to normal here next week. I promise. I'll even talk about Gosu and why I like it.

This week, all I'm going to do is wish a happy birthday to my beautiful wife, who turns thirty today.

Woodland Park Zoo

Happy birthday, Beautiful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Character Generation Project: Spirit of the Century

Those of you who are new to the blog can find an overview of what's going on here. Stephanie's overview of her normal approach to character generation is found here.

This particular character is a bit different, as it's from Spirit of the Century, a game for which you cannot generate a character alone (one step in character generation involves "Guest-Starring" in another character's pulp novel). Thankfully, our friend Wade has been planning to run a one-shot for it, and wanted us to generate our own characters rather than providing pre-gens. We had originally had the Dresden Files RPG on the list of games to do, but the cooperative nature of character generation made it tricky at best. When Wade mentioned that he was interested in doing a Spirit of the Century one-shot, we jumped on the opportunity (thank you, Wade!).

As always, the questions below are bolded and my comments (if any) are appended in italics after Stephanie's answer.

Spirit of the Century
To see this sheet a bit larger, click here.
There is also a scan of the character workshet,
but it's less legible, due to the purple ink.
Which game is this for? 
Spirit of the Century

How long did it take you to generate the character? 
3ish hours
Part of this time was discussion. The fact that you need to come up with a pulp novel and then insert yourself as a guest star in someone else's novel requires a great deal of discussion with the other players.

What was your character concept going into generation? 
Agatha from Girl Genius

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting? Did this influence your decision-making process during character generation?
Absolutely - knowing the pulp setting definitely changed how I chose to move forward.

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation? 
Quite a bit - being able to create my own Aspects was great to help me control my character.
There was a lot of "I want an Aspect that does X - any ideas on how best to phrase it?" from the entire party. Even though we all wound up with characters that are uniquely our own, the ideas contained therein all have input from the other players.

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?
I didn't feel like I was fighting the game at all.

Do you like the character you ended up with? 

Do you think your character fits your concept?

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

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically? 
Not really - it helped that we did this as a group to take care of the "guest star" aspects.

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected? 
All of it - the book made it seem a bit more complicated than it was.

What changes would you have made to the character generation process? 
It would be nice to be able to do this without the group, though the quick generation rules may cover that.

Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?
Not really - I think GM may need to put some limits on how much freedom he gives the players regarding the Aspects.

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?
We plan to play a one-shot with friends soon.
And we asked Wade's permission to use his one-shot as part of the project - thanks again, Wade!

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?
It was a ton of fun, especially since so much of it was collaborative.

Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?

Does this character make you want to play this game? 

Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.? 
I can't wait to play this character!

Have you given any thought to what game you'd like to do next? 
Not yet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Used Books

I have a deep and abiding fondness for a good used book store. Not least because they often don't know what they have when it comes to RPG books.

One of my favorites is Half Price Books. They're everywhere, and where we live, I get to see a continual stream of good gaming books - I keep finding obscure indie games there. Of course, there are three locations that I drive within a few blocks of daily because of my commute.

If I lived in Portland, I would go to Powell's more often - but their RPG section has been dwindling of late. The best find I saw there last time was a copy of Amber at a very reasonable price (especially given its $105 used price tag on Amazon at the moment).

Amazon often has used copies of books available, as well - usually through third-party sellers.

It's how I got my copy of Burning Empires, which was my introduction to the Burning Wheel system (which now includes the award-winning Mouse Guard game, as well).

A few weeks ago, my friend Wade took Stephanie and I to his local Half Price, and they had Weapons of the Gods in stock, as well as a lot of Earthdawn, 2nd Edition - two games I'd never picked up for a variety of reasons.

I'm always both glad and a little sad to find awesome things like this in used book stores.

Glad because it allows me to fill in gaps in my collection or buy that game I wanted but never saw in stores. And it's usually relatively cheap, too!

Sad because it means that someone put that book down. Whether it was because they moved to a new edition, or just walked away from the game (or the hobby), there is one less person enjoying that book.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Unlicensed Games: Playing In Your Favorite Settings

If you look back through the archives, I keep claiming over and over and over that "Your Game Is Not Literature."  I use the word 'literature' to include novels and short stories that most people wouldn't consider literature. Different rules apply to fiction than apply to games.

Much as we want to believe otherwise, gaming generally isn't cooperative storytelling - it's more like guided group therapy where one leader guides us through a story. And, yes, there are exceptions. The original Dragonlance Chronicles, for example, turned a game into a good read - but, even then, they ran into issues. The infamous story of the dragon in the well, for example.

The thing is, however, that I feel that the division is one-way. If you are a fan of a TV series or a novel, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to set a game in that same universe.  Licensed games have existed for years - the earliest one I played was the old Marvel Super Heroes RPG from TSR. The most popular one that I can think of is Call of Cthulhu.

Licensed games do a lot of the work for you - but sometimes you want to play in an unlicensed setting (or are dissatisfied with the licensed product).  I use these same guidelines in situations when I'm dissatisfied with a game's rules set (I really like many of the concepts and ideas contained in Rifts, but I really hate the system).

What steps do I follow, then?

1) What Does The Setting Need Rules For?

Look at the source material and figure out what the rules need to cover.  You wouldn't do a Babylon 5 RPG without starfighter combat, would you? (Sadly, they did.)

2) What Rules Don't You Need?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won't need firearms rules, for example.

3) How 'Crunchy' Do You Want The Rules To Be?

I'm going to call out Rolemaster here - every single weapon in Rolemaster has its own chart for to-hit and damage (and critical effects). And it has charts and charts and tables of modifiers for special situations - so if you're fighting blindfolded at night in a swamp with one hand tied behind your back and your opponent is left-handed with a slight limp, Rolemaster has you covered rules-wise. Do you want and/or need that level of detail for your rules? Or will the XPG system work better for you?

4) Do You Already Have A Rules Set that Will Work?

The excellent Red Dwarf RPG can be tweaked to fit a huge number of settings.  If you can't find it anywhere, Mean Streets uses the same system for Film Noir. Radz is post-apocalyptic. Santa's Soldiers is ... weird. Just look through Deep 7's offerings - anything described as 'XPG' will do the trick.

What about a generic system, such as Cortex - does it have what you need?

5)  What tweaking will that rules set require?

You could do Babylon 5 with Traveller. Very easily, in fact. You just need stats for the various alien races. And their ships. Assuming your players are already familiar with the setting, that is ...

But if I were to use Silhouette to run a Shadowrun-style game, I'd need to create or find rules for magic. I'd need to create or find rules for non-human races. I'd need to create or find rules for hacking and the 'Net ...

6) Are Your Players Interested?

This is the most-often ignored step. You could be the biggest A-Team fan in the entire universe, but if your players aren't interested, the game will fall completely flat. Even if you've painstakingly tweaked Leverage to account for more guns and less witty dialogue, it won't work.

Another example? I've become a HUGE fan of the Shadows of the Apt series (Book one is Empire in Black and Gold). I have it about half-converted to run in Runequest II, but none of my players have read the books. Since they know nothing of the setting, I could just as easily run it as a D&D game, and they'd never know the difference.

7) What Do Characters Do?

Office Space would probably not be a good setting for an RPG.

Until Leverage, I'd have said that you'd never be able to do The Sting as an RPG. But now it's possible.

The point is: If you don't have at least one playable adventure, and the setting doesn't have hooks to hang further plots from, then why bother?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Religion in D&D

So I opened the can of worms a few weeks ago, when I said that I am annoyed by how most parties treat religion in their games.

My friend, Wade, in a comment on my post of a few weeks ago included this nugget:
I think that most players and DMs are uncomfortable with religion to begin with; and they don't know how individuals and societies to whom the gods are real and present "do religion"on a daily basis. But ultimately unless the DM makes it a strong element in the game, there's very little reason to bother with it.
And it's true from top to bottom. Players are uneasy with religion, and if your DM ignores religion, then there's no reason for the PC's to mess with it. Since DM's are uneasy, they ignore it.

This post will just barely scratch the tip of the iceberg, too. I have a hunch that a more dedicated blogger could maintain a weekly blog for several years discussing nothing more than religion and gaming.

The first annoyance for me about how people handle religion in their game is this: Worship your god, but don't forget about the rest of the pantheon.

Roughly fifteen years ago, I purchased the Age of Heroes Campaign Sourcebook. I can date my acquisition pretty accurately, as the green cover has the old square TSR logo, but the title page has the newer round TSR logo. The green historical sourcebooks were all over the map in terms of quality and usability, but there was a paragraph in here that caught my interest.  At the bottom of the second column of Page 33, it reads:
Regardless of their specialty school or kit, all wizards owe their magic to the evil goddess Hecate. She is the source of all mortal magic in the Greek setting. All wizards must acknowledge this and make the proper sacrifices to her or lose their powers. Wizards need not be of evil alignment to do this. It shows respect to revere the gods, regardless of alignment differences.
There are a few other references throughout the book regarding proper reverence for the gods.

A PC who just writes down "Demeter" as his patron deity and then forgets to sacrifice to Poseidon before a sea voyage is a fool. A PC who fails to sacrifice to Hermes before a land voyage (and Zeus and Hera after the voyage) is likewise being foolish.  PC's don't worship specific gods - they worship the pantheon. A priest of Zeus will still sacrifice to other gods at the appropriate times.

And The Odyssey reminds us not to anger any of the gods - Athena was Odysseus' patron, and he angered Poseidon which led to his extremely long voyage home. Poseidon wasn't the only god he angered in his voyages, either - he ate Helios' cattle, for example.

All of this brings up an advantage to using "historical" gods over the made-up ones that Wizards has provided to us - we don't know the mythology of the setting. I can mention Persephone to our gaming group, and people will remember Hades and Demeter and pomegranates. I can do this for a number of other cultures, too, and get a lot of gamer reactions.

How many myths of the Raven Queen do you know? Have you heard any legends of Pelor? Do you sacrifice to Bahamut, or does he just accept your adulation? What happens if a worshiper of Ioun marries a worshiper of Kord?

There are hints dropped here and there - this article references the Raven Queen's predecessor (Nerull), so someone at Wizards has some myths and legends sitting around. I'd love to see some of these - even if it's just as a series of articles in Dragon.

I'd love to read the tale of how Sehanine stole the moon from Pelor. Or how Avandra set the seasons in motion by tricking Corellon and Nerull into setting aside their differences. Or any number of possible myths.

This is one of the reasons I really liked Book of the Righteous more than just about anyone else (it's also available in PDF). It provided a complete pantheon and the myths to go with them. The only difficulty was in convincing your players to read them - but if you make religion a living part of your game, your players (even the non-Divine class ones) will be interested. Of course, it'll need some tweaking to fit into a 4E game ...

Does this view of religion still apply to 3E and 4E games? Absolutely. Just because the rules have changed doesn't make the gods any less real in the games. So even though my Paladin of the Raven Queen has to share a party with a Cleric of Pelor, we aren't likely to argue about religion. We may disagree about the best way to handle a given situation, but I won't insult Pelor and he won't insult the Raven Queen - after all, both of our gods hang out together in the setting equivalent of Olympus.

It makes me want to see how far I can get in creating rituals - the non-magical ones - for the various deities. Can you imagine what a cleric of Sehanine would be like at a funeral? Or how a cleric of the Raven Queen would handle a wedding?

Maybe I should write some myths up and see if I can get them into Dragon.