For the last four years there’s been a thing on social media called “RPG a Day”. I’ve been trying to keep up with it this year on Google Plus and thought it would be good to compile my answers here. This post is for the first to the sixteenth of August.
1 – What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
Right now? Dungeon World. It’s been a while since my last campaign and I’ve been discussing it with my former GM, Graham, who is learning to run it. I’ve also been hearing stories from one of my current players who ran it for some of his students. I really want to be running it now.
2 – What is an RPG you would like to see published?
A spy game, but lighter than SpyCraft 2.0. I loved it, but I develop hives when I see that many pages in a game book and that many tables these days.
I tended to run SpyCraft First Edition as somewhere between 24, Alias and Metal Gear Solid, so something which embraces the dafter side of spies that play things seriously instead of looking for any kind of real world accuracy.
3 – How do you find out about new RPGs?
The blog of Brie Sheldon as they seem pretty in touch and on it as far as good new games. The Gauntlet podcast which has caused too much damage to my wallet. I keep an eye on Kickstarter projects.
4 – Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?
7th Sea Second Edition. At eleven sessions it’s just slightly longer than our usual campaigns. As a lifelong GM with few experiences as a player, it was nice playing in one of my favourite settings with a lovely new system. I’ve been writing up the sessions here.
5 – Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
The literalism of Blades in the Dark’s special edition, along with how very pretty it is. Look at it, the twin blades as the only points of light, the tome-like quality. It’s dark and spooky, which is perfect for the game.
6 – You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do?
I’d go through the many shorter games which I’ve not had a chance to play yet and try them all out. My collection is way too big and while many are small, I simply haven’t had the time to give them a go. Seriously, this is just a quick glance at my ‘indie games’ folder.
7 – What was your most impactful RPG session?
I was a player in a homebrewed system by my friend Andy. He wanted to run a kind of crime-based Tarantino-ish game. We did a couple of seasons, each with Raveonettes-inspired names.
They were dark, but comedic at the same time. The first one, “The Day I Shot Your Heart”, had a chase and a fight in an old circus. One of the group was an asthmatic mobster who slept with his gun and inhaler under his pillow, inviting a tragic accident.
The second was, “Pretty in Black”, with a mostly new group. My character was a scumbag hitman called Johnny Shades, who’d just about survived the previous game powered by expired Serbian painkillers and a trunk full of coke.
We were doing some low-level mook work, trying to find out about a twisted pair of crime boss siblings. I had to interrogate a mechanic who was pretty mouthy. We roughed him up and got what we could. Then I shot him. We needed rid of the guy and given the game, given our characters, it was expected.
I asked whether I needed to roll. We’d got used to the system and my character was good at gunplay, so he’d be rolling higher than the rest of the group.
Andy said I didn’t need to roll. I just kill the guy. He described the ease by which Johnny finished the mechanic off.
I froze up, shocked at what just happened. How easy it was to end a life, admittedly a fictional one. This was an NPC, one with a name (time has eroded the exact name, but Johnny Shades sure as hell knew it). Dice acted as a kind of moral shielding, blocking me from how terrible an action I was taking because I could roll badly, the enemy could roll well. It was gone and I was just left with the bare horror of the action I took.
I’ve often thought about that, both as a player and a GM. There’s a lot of power in not having to roll, “Say yes or roll the dice” and all that. Well you don’t always need to roll and while that’s liberating, it’s also daunting when it comes to things like straight up murdering a defenceless person. It’s something which taught me about combat, murder and our interaction with it in games.
I found D&D and older RPGs often encourage the ‘murderhobo’ kind of player sociopathy. This made it interesting seeing how this moment made me question combat in games, the need to roll dice as part of an action and whether they’re necessary in a game.
8 – What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?
I like the idea that you can run a lot of PbtA games at conventions for only a couple of hours and I’ve come close, but I waffle a lot so they’re off the table.
Dread’s good, but I’ve recently had a game where because of the tower pretty much refusing to fall, things went on about twice as long as any other game I’ve had.
My two suggestions are the following:
The Final Girl – Now where Dread has the chance for death, this strictly manages death. Every scene a minimum of one person will live and a minimum of one person will die. It cuts things back quickly and draws focus narrower and narrower as the game continues.
One Ugly Motherfucker – This lasted 90 minutes exactly, the minimum time for a film to run. That’s apt as this is a Predator RPG. You play a bunch of macho characters with a Loud/Quiet balancing stat like Lasers & Feelings’ core stat. In this, you set up challenges and a monster closes in on the characters. Things flip a bit near the end, giving the remaining hero a little more power than the victims in Final Girl.
There, two games with a similar style, both very good at funnelling the gameplay into narrower play as you progress.
I reviewed Final Girl here and One Ugly Motherfucker here.
9 – What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?
Most of them, right?
I love a good one-shot for its ability to tell a whole story in one go, but it’s really satisfying to be able to have a ‘season’ of a game with a beginning, middle and end.
Blades in the Dark has been fantastic for showing how you and your gang evolves over time, as well as the repercussions for actions the group takes. In my game, the group have managed to get a good force but with very few people. They’ve decimated one of the gangs in their neighbourhood which summoned someone mysterious buying up all the damaged property and encouraged Ulf Ironborn (now a vampire thanks to the group) to get more hostile. The growing saga and the toll taken on the group couldn’t be expressed in a one shot.
As a fan of teen drama, I want to run a campaign of Monsterhearts rather than just one-shots. The idea of having the evolution of a bunch of characters over a longer timeframe feels like it could be very satisfying, as well as quite bloody.
10 – Where do you go for RPG reviews?
Not many places these days, so I’m hoping other peoples’ responses will add a few places to my RSS feed. It’s something I want to be better at with at Who Dares Rolls. Shut Up and Sit Down do the occasional RPG review. On G+ I try to keep an eye out for anyone posting reviews, although they tend to be posted directly to G+ or on individual blogs rather than a specific site.
I tend to use other media: whether they’re actual play podcasts or shows like The Gauntlet.
On YouTube I’ve found very little, I think just Game Geeks with Kurt Wiegel.
11 – Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?
This one’s a little odd, as it’s kind of being reborn.
I loved Alternity. The system was a little fiddly, but I adored Star*Drive and Dark●Matter. We had a few campaigns in those worlds, I bought the novels set in them. It was great.
Star*Drive was basically about a section of space in the year 2501 which had been cut off from the main galactic governments for 100 years and gone a bit weird. Two planets were still fighting the (now long-over) galactic war which isolated them. A prison planet let everyone out when they realised backup wasn’t coming. The Lighthouse, a mysterious teleporting station (long before Mass Effect’s Citadel) was a hub of activity. It was Firefly meets B5, meets Mass Effect and a tiny bit of Starship Troopers.
Then Dark●Matter, which was “If X-Files was a whole company”.
I loved them, so when I saw Alternity was being resurrected on Kickstarter, I was pretty pumped. Then I saw the product. The rules are streamlined in some sections and even more fiddly in others. The settings are (probably for licensing reasons from WotC) entirely gone.
While it has an original designer, it doesn’t feel at all like the Alternity I grew up with and loved for so long.
What I’d love to see is Star*Drive and maybe Dark●Matter as either system-agnostic books or an Alternity system with maybe half as many skills or a simpler way of generating characters which won’t terrify players as much as having to list your trained and untrained skills back in the day.
12 – Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?
Dead of Night Second Edition has some fantastic art, which was even given away as postcards at conventions.
First edition’s art was cute but pretty rough. Still, I enjoyed the hell out of the games I played and ran. DoN Second Edition was not playing around. From the evocative cover (especially as the game I played once and ran a bunch of times was a werewolf-based one).
The game was fairly simple, so as well as the system, there were essays on horror and tons of plot hooks. The main interior art panels were fictional horror film posters, each one nicely evocative and with plot seeds within the book.
As I said, there were postcards handed out at conventions. It must have been Dragonmeet where I picked up my copy from the author, Andrew Kenrick, who’d GM’d for me a few times there. I thought the postcards were just tangentally-related fluff, but ended up using them in some of the games I ran.
13 – Describe a game experience that changed how you play?
The Buffy RPG by Eden Sutios. It taught me a lot of skills which I found codified in story games later on.
I was a massive fan of the show and thought it’d be a harder sell to my group than it was. From there I started planning episodes, which would each be a self-contained session compared to the endless slog that our Hackmaster 4th Edition game was, ending when we timed out at the end of a Sunday afternoon.
We had a Big Bad and I laid seeds out through the episodes. We also had character arcs. Some of the characters fell in love, got frustrated at each other, had moments of pensive angst.
The love triangle… ah, the love triangle. The Zeppo re-enactment nerd and the jock werewolf both had a thing for the visiting werewolf girl who turned the jock. It was brilliant, brutal and punched a bunch of us right in the feels. Bleed, as Kate Bullock calls it. No one came away from that encounter well or in a good light. It was perfect.
It brought a lot of the ‘fiction first’ play which my group would be based around, even though we didn’t know it at the time.
It also brought the idea of fan-casting and soundtracks to my group, both of which have often been staples of my RPGs. I even made cards for the Buffy CCG which were based on our campaign.
14 – Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?
I’ve got a couple of nominations here.
Dungeon World is perfect for open-ended campaigns, with Fronts framing a challenge but not railroading players in a specific direction.
My first campaign, set around the land of Wall, had players draw landmarks, cities and mysteries. This meant that there were threats to investigate or bump into all around the world and potential for escalation or evolution of them. The second, set in a high fantasy Mega City One called Exodus. I had the players establish certain sections of the city of cities, as well as the rules of their district.
Hunter: The Reckoning was great for open-ended gaming for my group. I created a small town with a few secrets, had the players stumble into their imbuing on one night and a Twin Peaks-ish mystery to solve relating to it. As the game went on, there were a few things in their town and the nearby city which they could delve into with however much or little attention as they wanted. There were some repercussions for things abandoned, such as the golf club which they let the vampires run or the wayward-led murder cult which butchered some supernatural contacts of the group. There were two later seasons, each set seven years after the previous one (and shifting from Hunter: The Reckoning to Hunter: The Vigil).
15 – Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?
World of Darkness, specifically the nWoD/CofD version.
I loved the old World of Darkness, but it was a right bastard trying to get it all to interact. nWoD fixed that by having a basic system for normal humans and then the splats. It meant you’d make normal people who happened to be monsters, instead of superpowered beasties from the get-go.
It also meant that you could modify the system and use it for whatever you wanted. Tales of shifting morality and personal horror were the main directions to go, but that was fine, I used it for that.
I ran three seasons of Amnesiac City, where characters built their characters as they went. They were in a city of a million people with no memory, armed with a random object each. Then, the monsters came out at night.
I also used it for a high fantasy game, converting what had been a D&D campaign. I changed skills, created magic systems and totemic powers. It brought a closer, more introspective view to the characters and the setting. In retrospect I should have changed the morality system further.
16 – Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
Oh man, this is difficult. I was thinking maybe Monsterhearts, but I’ve run it twice and could easily see myself hacking it. I’ve not run 7th Sea Second Edition yet but might add elements from the Explorer’s Society.
Blades in the Dark is probably my current pick, as the mechanics and setting are bound together in a way that I love it as it stands and can’t see hacking it myself. I’m sure others would and the extra settings may change things, but at the moment it’s good as it stands.
That’s it for my first half of RPG a Day. Feel free to check out my daily entries on Google Plus, or come back here at the end of August for the second compilation.