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#RPGaDay 12 – Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Rifts.  For me, it’s got to be the artwork for Rifts and its umpteen-million source books (which I seemed, at one point, to own every single one of.  Had to spend my hard earned fast food job money somehow, I guess.)

The first game system I discovered after D&D was Palladium’s ruleset, first in the form of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.  This would have been around 1985 or so, and I discovered the floppy covered beauty of a main rule book tucked in the back corner of a B. Dalton Books.   This game was a thing before the turtles became major pop icons, and it was far better than it had any right to be.  I made probably hundreds of mutant characters on my own up in my room, filling reams of paper with character sheets generated from their mutant generation rules, which had a weird points buy system to evolve an animal from its natural form towards humans.  Buy hands, and you might not be able to grow bigger.   If I recall correctly, the interior art there was almost entirely original comics art, at least in the main rulebook.

Speaking of the Ninja Turtles, allow me a brief aside for what may have been the first moment in my life where I felt some sense of real public shame: after the release of the TMNT movie, I was obsessed with the theme song from the movie, and I would call our local Topeka radio station a couple of times a day begging them to play it.  One day, the disc jockey asked me to say some of the lines from the movie, which I gleefully recited in my best surfer dude turtle voice.  Little did I know he was recording our call, and while they did play the song, he also played my stupid little impressions.  Hearing them played back before the song was not worth it; I was embarassed as hell to hear myself coming out of the radio.  And that, ladies and gentleman, was the day I became an adult.

So, back to the artwork discussion.  By the time Palladium got around to publishing their batshit crazy Rifts game, the artwork for most of their books was primarily being done by Kevin Long. Now, I know the names of maybe two or three RPG artists, but I learned Kevin Long’s name in junior high because his art was so crucial to establishing the Rifts world. I’d argue that Rifts would not have succeeded or gone nearly anywhere without Long’s artwork.  Apparently, he left Palladium in 1995, and now works in video games, according to Wikipedia. Honestly, if anyone ever wanted to surprise me with a piece of original art that would be like gazing into a well full of concentrated nostalgia, the artist would have to be Long.

Honorable mention would have to go to the early editions of Shadowrun and Earthdawn, which heavily featured work by Jeff Laubenstein and Tim Bradstreet.  I think I once had the opportunity to buy some Bradstreet art but I was broke at the time.  One day…

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 11: Which “dead game” would you like to see reborn?

There’s one game that has long fascinated me.  I bought a used copy when I was in high school or junior high.  I don’t think we ever really played it. I’m not even sure if we tried, or if it was a playable system at all.  What I remember most was the highly unusual world building and artwork associated with it.

The game was called Skyrealms of Jorune.  Gord had some thoughts on Jorune that you can read here.  I’m not sure I can safely describe the game via distant memories, as I haven’t seen a copy in person in 25 years, so I’ll leave you to read around online.  But basically, it was a far future SF setting, it involved floating islands, very strange “magic” systems, unique alien races, and more.

I suspect it would best be served by an adaptation to an existing game system, such as FATE or Savage Worlds or Cypher, which from some cursory googling, a few people have attempted.  One of the things I love about RPGs is that they allow us to play in some pretty distinct and weird settings.  It doesn’t get much more unique than Jorune.  Of all the odd box set games I picked up as a teen, this one has stuck in my memories for decades.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 10: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

This is best represented as a bullet list, today:

That’s pretty much it, and it’s not often that I read RPG reviews.  Until recently, I haven’t been keeping up on the “scene” of RPG publishing much.  I love role-playing games, but I’m not involved in their publishing and I don’t really have a dependable group to play them with, so that makes sense.  Most of the reviews I see are accidental, tangential to other things.  I read SU&SD for the board game reviews primarily, and io9 for general genre news.  And Gord Sellar’s blog because he’s an awesome guy and a good friend.

Where are you reading reviews?  Any great sites I’m missing?  Leave me a note in the comments.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Oh, I like this one.  This is the kind of thing I can sink into.

Ten sessions is a great length for any game that doesn’t have a focus on power progression and leveling up. If we compare sessions to television, what we get is a ten episode series or season. This is a really great length for creating a story arc, in my opinion.  Longer, and you have too much filler.  Shorter, and some characters might not get an opportunity to be in the spotlight.

So, let’s talk about games that don’t have a strong focus on power progression (like, say, D&D or Earthdawn does).  GURPS would be a good system for a game that doesn’t require characters to level up. That’s a classic, but I often find the mechanics a little too fiddly.  Half that game seems to be creating a character with the points buy system.  I haven’t played GURPS in probably 10-15 years, to be honest.

Another thought would be Savage Worlds again.  If I was looking to run something rules light and fast, with a focus on story, I’d definitely default to Savage Worlds because I’ve had a lot of time to really get to know it, and it’s a “setting neutral” system that doesn’t force a lot of world building on you. I like to do my own world-building.

Another idea might be the Cypher System.  I’ve only played this in the form of Numenera, but I really liked the emphasis on freeing up the GM to focus on managing the game and the story.

But let’s go old school.  I think if I had a group of people willing to commit to a ten session campaign, I would spin up a game of Mage in the World of Darkness.   Mage has one of my all time favorite magic systems, and the world building isn’t so detailed that I feel completely boxed in and unable to tell my own stories.  Characters don’t really have a huge emphasis on getting more powerful, so you don’t have something like “oh, now we have level four spells and everything about this adventure is cake now” to worry about in your planning.  (Seriously, I hate designing encounters for high level D&D play.  There’s just so much more you have to think about).

I’ve run a lot of short campaigns of Mage, and it has allowed for some of the wildest and most imaginative play I’ve ever had.  I know the ins and outs, although I may be a little rusty on the various magical traditions now.  And when I say Mage, I mean Mage: The Ascension, not whatever form it’s mutated into now.  I don’t want to play Mage with spells; the free form “spheres” magic system was the best.

Whew, thanks for taking the long way around on that one with me.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

I’m not a big fan of sessions shorter than three hours in length.  Most groups take upwards of half an hour to an hour just to settle in, unpack, and get themselves ready for the game.  That leaves little time for actually playing.

I find 3-4 hours is the perfect length for a session, although I have played shorter games and longer games.  If I was told I’d only have two hours, I’d most likely default to a board game rather than an RPG. I want every session I run to have a story arc.  A two hour session to me feels like it lends itself to “flash fiction” length games.  Three or more, that’s a short story, and that’s the length at which I feel most comfortable.

But okay, okay, I’ll do my best to answer the question in the spirit it was asked.  Probably the best game for me for a short session is one in which the rules are light and don’t bog down things very much in mechanics.  Any system like D&D that requires a lot of GM book-keeping wouldn’t be great.  You might get 2-3 encounters at best done in a 2 hour session of D&D.  Whereas, with a lighter system like Savage Worlds, I think you could get through a lot more game.

Two hours of combat wouldn’t feel like much, but a role-play heavy session of something like Savage Worlds Deadlands Reloaded could be satisfying.  A mystery adventure, something with a lot of questioning and talking.  Combat is basically, in almost every single session, highly decompressed storytelling.  Every action requires a roll.  Whereas, a game where the GM and the players trust each other to role-play and lean less on the dice, that’s likely to move more quickly.

For me, it’s not amount the number of dice rolls, and it’s not about the number of experience points.  A session’s value is measured to me in pure units of story.  So while I think two hours makes for a very brief session, combine it with a rapid play system, and you could do well enough.  Just stay away from Rolemaster.

 

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#RPGaDay 7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

These kinds of questions irk me.   I’m just contrarian like that.  So I’m going to come at this one a bit orthogonally.

For anyone to truly understand why most RPG sessions mattered,  they had to be there.  Gaming stories retold are often pretty boring to the listener.  They don’t make good audience material.  Half the spark that makes them so important and valuable is that they happened to you, you were there, man.  We can’t ever recapture that easily for a third party.

That doesn’t mean sessions don’t impact us.  I have so many great memories. Personally, the sessions that I remember the most over time are the ones that made me laugh.  A good group of players can wind each other up with their inside jokes and their running gags to the point where an external observer would assume everyone was high as hell.  Some of my best memories of tabletop gaming involve me laying on the floor, laughing so hard that I was crying.  Literally falling out of your chair laughing is one of the best experiences one can have in life.

The “first, we get a big rock” gag that old Argyle the Scottish-styled highlands troll ran with in an epic Earthdawn campaign comes to mind.  This character was a gold mine of hilarious jokes, as he had the lowest possible intelligence score in the game and player Corey knew exactly how to play that up (with horrible Shrek style accent for extra laughs).  Then there was the time my players in a campaign of Savage Worlds realized that they had accidentally been responsible for the conquering and subjugation of the entire planet Earth.  I could describe dozens more sessions that really mattered to me, that gave me great joy and sometimes even sadness.  Every time a great new character landed on the table, or a favorite one died in a shining moment of glory; I remember them all.  The problem is, I could never convey to you their real importance to me.  You had to be there.

The best thing about RPGs for me is that they’re engines for generating life-long memories.  Personal memories.  I know they can be spectator experiences too (not for me though), but in recounting them, something valuable is lost. That’s what makes them special, I think; the limited scope and ephemeral nature.  It’s so hard to box them up and commodify them (although countless Youtubers seems to be doing a decent job of trying).  Personally, I can’t stand watching other people role-play and roll dice.  I want to be in there, playing.  Nothing beats the real thing for me.

I can remember so many things about my games that I cannot remember about my actual day to day life from those time periods.  That’s not to say that I live my life indulging in pointless fantasies, but they’re real, emotional experiences with other people.  So much of my life as a modern adult is lived in isolation. I don’t have a lot of real world friends.  The ones I do have, I don’t actually see very often at all.  I see my wife and son regularly, but just living and working takes up the vast majority of our time.

The most impactful RPG session is the one I just had, and the next one, just around the corner, might de-throne that one.  For me, in aggregate, it’s impossible for me to convey the importance of all my games that I’ve ever played.  Each one, even the bad ones, served to make me feel a little more connected to other people, a little less isolated.  In a way, tabletop RPGs are the perfect antidote to the ailments of modern, isolated living.  We need more reasons to get together in person again.  We need each other more than ever before.

I would say that the resurgence of tabletop RPGs in the past few years points towards this being a widespread problem.  We could all do with a little more laughter around a real world table, and a little less laughter emoji on our phones.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!

If I could game every single day for a week, I would want to be the Dungeon Master and I would want to design an epic and sprawling dungeon using my rad dungeon tiles that I’ve featured here on the site previously.

I’d focus on classic encounters with new twists, at least at first.  Rust monsters, gelatinous cubes, goblins, and so on, but combined in some interesting ways that players don’t quite expect.  I’d build a narrative to tie things together, but the central loop of kicking open doors and killing would be the usual experience.   I’d really work at giving out the loot and experience points so that players would progress and level up at least once a day.  Each day, the dungeon would get progressively harder, more complex, more full of traps.  Each day, the PCs would get more experienced.  Over time, the encounters would become more esoteric and weird.  Combat would not always be the solution to things – good roleplaying and negotiation would be rewarded.

Basically, I’d want to run a mega-dungeon as a single campaign.  The PCs will not see the light of day for weeks, perhaps months.  But they will be epic heroes by the time they escape my Dungeon of Doom.

That’s what we would do in the mornings, anyway.  For the afternoons and evenings, we would play a series of one-shots in a variety of systems and settings that we’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t had time to experience.  Each player would try their hand at running a different game with pre-generated characters.  These could get goofy and fun, to release some of the tension that builds up during the Mega Dungeon play.

For players, I’d want to bring back the best and brightest players from my long life of playing games.  Friends from childhood, friends from college, friends from my time in Colorado.  I’d bring them all together to some rented haunted house or mansion in a remote location. We’d lock up all our devices and cellphones and we’d just focus on telling fun stories, epic stories that we’d talk about for years in that particular way that gamers do.  You know – stories that you just had to be there for, stories that would bore anyone else to hear, but stories that we made together, just for us.

That’s what I would do if I could game for a week.  How about you?

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#RPGaDay 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

There can really be no contest here.  It has been and likely always will be this version of the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

We have a dark and ominous room dominated by an enormous demonic statue with bejeweled eyes.  We’ve got player characters attempting to pry one of the gems out of the statue, and who knows what will happen if they succeed?  A slain monster lays in the middle ground, and a group of players discuss their next move in the foreground. We see wizards, fighters, and thieves.

Dungeons & Dragons covers these days are beautiful works of art, and they depict epic action against towering and horrible monsters.  The scale of everything, the coolness factor, is so much more than it was back in the olden days of yore.  Even still,  no piece of art captures the spirit of being a murder hobo better than this.  We’ve got dead monsters, looting, and planning what to kill and loot next.  That’s the core loop of D&D game play for me.  It’s not deep and it’s not especially elegant.  But it’s the core of what the game was to me in my youth, and this artwork captures that better than anything else for me.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 4: Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

Actually, honestly played?  Well, almost nothing.  This is something I would really like to change.

I had a campaign going of Monte Cook’s Numenera for a couple of months in 2015, but this game fell apart in the usual ways.  Players stopped committing to showing up.  Schedules got the in way.  Lives were re-prioritized. I was really disappointed, but there was no use in trying to keep it going. I let it die off, and I’ve been unable to organize a game since, despite trying a number of times.  I’ve had people tentatively commit, and then back out.  Perhaps I’m not a very good game master, or I’m a difficult person to play with.  Or perhaps it’s just the way people schedule their times these days.

P.S.: I really enjoyed Numenera quite a bit, and I hope I get to play it again some day.

As I push 40, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find people with similar interests who want to commit the kind of regular time it takes to developing a good campaign.  I find playing any less than twice a month results in a disjointed experience. The ideal time frame is once a week, but even I find that difficult, and that’s with a relatively flexible schedule.  I rarely try to schedule anything consistently anymore due to people’s lives being what they are.

For years now, I’ve found it far easier to get together temporary and ephemeral groups of people together to play board games; I can’t be the only one having this trouble, either.  When I was younger, board games were a much smaller hobby, but these days, they are probably the fastest growing section of tabletop gaming (citation needed).  I own dozens of board games that have seen consistent play, and probably nearly as many RPG books that are in mint condition because they’ve only been paged through once or twice.

If there’s one thing I really want to change in 2018, it’s that I want to develop a group of people who are as passionate about playing role-playing games as I am.  I want to find a regular group willing to set aside a chunk of their lives to experience a good, exciting story with a few other people who are equally committed.  If I’m being honest, it feels about as likely to happen as discovering a unicorn grazing in my back yard, but I’m not going to let that deter me.

The other way this is changing is that I’m starting a new company on the side of my usual business involved in developing really elaborate, tabletop D&D experiences.  Basically, an organization aimed at running professional games, with top-tier tools and resources, and dedicated to providing support materials so others can do the same.  If that goes well, i’ll be getting my fill of regular D&D games in the latter part of 2017 and into 2018 and beyond.  I don’t want to talk about that idea too much yet, but you can be sure you’ll read more about it here as our plans develop.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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#RPGaDay 3: How do you find out about new RPGs?

Today’s entry is going to be short, because the answer to this one is fairly simple.  I only find out about new games in one of several ways:

  • I see the game on the shelf at one of my friendly local gaming store (we currently appear to have 3 in my town alone, and a really nice one over in Olathe as well. We had four, but sadly my store of choice went out of business, so now I’m a free agent, but slowly settling in at a new store).
  • One of my friends who still keeps up with the hobby posts about the game on social media
  • The game is tied to a creator that I follow closely (Simon Stålenhag’s Tales from the Loop RPG being a recent example of this)

Social media so thoroughly dominates my mental landscape as far as how I encounter new things that I’m frankly a little worried that I’m missing out on great things I would really love.  But let’s be honest; I don’t have time to play a lot of games, so discovering brand new ones is not high on my list of priorities.

If you have a news site that you would recommend I use to keep up with the field, drop a recommendation to me in the comments, or… well, social media works too.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

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