Author Archive: morrisonmp

RPGaDay 2015: Day 28

August 28th.

Favorite Game You No Longer Play

It’s funny, but where many of these questions have left me scratching my head or thinking about them for a while. This one had games clamoring for the opportunity to be mentioned, even if that means they are ex-gamefriends. They were favorites once, right?

Game One in this journey would have to be Star Wars (West End, D6 version). There was a time when this was the primary game I was playing. I mean lots and lots of D6 Star Wars. We did it all, bounty hunters, rebels, Imperials, Jedi; during the first trilogy, during the Thrawn trilogy… I could go on and on. But now, now I might pull one of these old books out for reference or for memories. It has probably been at least five years since the last time I was in a full on Star Wars d6 game. Well, when it comes to this one… it is definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

Star Wars D6 is a great game, with a wealth of amazing supplements, a solid system, and is still one of the easiest games I’ve ever come across in terms of teaching it to new people. So there is nothing wrong here. It’s just, we drifted apart. There were other games, and other groups. We had mutual friends that we just don’t have anymore. But I will always be fond of this one, cherish the memories, and wonder what would happen if we ever met again, eyes meeting across a crowded room… could the spark come back?

Game Two I can just be up front and say… it was a different time. Mage: the Ascension was a revelation for me. That magic system! So magnificent in its understated way. So elegant and stylish. Mage really pushed me to be a better player, better game master. Mage was what I needed then. And will always be thankful for that. But it was more of a whirlwind romance in a foreign land than it was true love. And we both knew it. Some of your supplements were glorious – and I loved your Storyteller’s Guide. It’s like I still talk to your Mom sometimes, even though you and I both moved to different places. You were a great game and you came along at just the right time in my life (some might call it Coincidence, but we know it was Magick).

Game Three, well, we were so close to perfect for each other. Warhammer Fantasy RPG, 2nd Edition was just a great game. It took the old career system and smartened it up – along with the game system surrounding it – and turned it into a slick-looking, fun, dangerous little game. So many little touches went into making you great. You had this vast and interesting backstory. You managed your baggage well. You gave me a lot to think about. You got me creating again and you revitalized my [home brew] world. But stuff nagged at me. You had some habits that were just a little hard to overlook, like your insistence on using a career system which was amazing for creating characters but then made less and less sense across the life of a vivid campaign. And you had a dark side. A little too dark for me. In the end, we took a little time apart and I met someone new. I’m sorry to say, they are a lot like you – and a lot like my first love (D&D) – but merge what I loved about both of you in a way that just works for me. But hey, we’ll always have New Theris…

I’d like to thank Runeslinger (over at Casting Shadows) for the inspiration for this blog. He set the idea in motion with his post today when he made the leap that the really important part of the answer is the reason we no longer play these old favorites. Good stuff.

And this was fun. It’s been a long time since I was writing on the Rhetorical Gamer and it felt good. This month has been a good experience so far and I’m happy to be writing again.

As always, thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 27

August 27th.

Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games Into One

My first, easiest, answer is to simply say Shadowrun. I mean, it basically just blended Cyberpunk 2013 with D&D and got a whole new game that has thrived entirely in it’s own right. Is it the first “mash-up” game to come out of the hobby? I have no idea, but it is certainly an enduring one.

I do also like the merging of horror and the wild west that is Deadlands. Not really sure which two games they put together, more like just genres, but it is a heck of a mix that makes for some fascinating gaming. I’ve always enjoyed the Deadlands games I’ve been a part of and the mixed up nature of it is part of the reason.

Does anyone else remember Dragon Storm? I sometimes feel like the only one. It mixed CCG style card play with traditional roleplaying elements to be a collectible card RPG (CCRPG?). It was a weird one that got weirder before it went away. I loved it though. Stumbled on it at a con back in the mid-90s when it was fairly new. Susan Van Camp was the guest at the con and we played it quite a bit for a while after that. I still have all my cards and just recently discovered a quiet corner of the internet where they are keeping the game alive and active. I might have to get some friends together and try it out again for kicks.

Not sure this really answers the question but it – again – has been one of my favorite prompts to think about and write about.

See you tomorrow, and thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 26

August 26th.

Favorite Inspiration for Your Games

First, it is hard to believe this is almost over. I’m going to have to find things to blog about on my own again! Well, I have a few saved up from my experiences lately with ACKS, D&D Attack Wing, and just some general thoughts I’m kicking around.

But hey, favorite inspirations? Well, this is actually going to be a pretty boring answer, but my primary inspiration over the years has been the books I read. Particularly fantasy books, but it can be anything.

I find that I’m not really a visual thinker/person so movies do less for me and I’m not much into art on the whole. Spectacle is lost on me. But books stay with me, influence my thinking for a long time after I’ve finished them.

Who do I go back to for inspiration? I’ve mentioned many names before but Peter S. Beagle, David Eddings, and Guy Gavriel Kay are big sources of inspiration for me. As is Tamora Pierce. The last three pretty much shaped how the gods behave in all my games. Amber, both the novels and the game book have been intensely inspiring over the years. James Blaylock’s Elfin Ship and Disappearing Dwarf are two of my all-time favorite “go back to” reads and may do more to refresh me than they do to inspire me but it’s a thin line. Tolkien, for the always surprising deftness of his touch and to remind me that small details matter.

I also tend to draw quite a bit of inspiration just from reviewing the “GM Guides” from different games. I find that reading the thoughts of designers on how they expect or hope that GMs will approach their games is fascinating and will often trigger an idea or shake loose something that has been bugging me. The Book of Mirrors: Mage Storytellers Handbook (for the original Mage game) is still a source of inspiration to me today and I love revisiting it like an old friend.

So, not sure if I have a favorite source of inspiration (okay, I do, it’s The Last Unicorn) but I hope this list was interesting to someone out there.

Thanks for reading. Seeing the end of the tunnel now.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 25

August 25th.

Favorite Revolutionary RPG Mechanic

What is revolutionary? I’m not asking to be difficult. It’s more a reaction to the idea that RPGs were “one thing” because D&D was the first and that somehow the creations of other RPGs in the early design space were innovations. It’s also a question about whether modern design is innovation/revolution as opposed to a continued tinkering with the form which suits certain niches of the larger hobby community. Most new games don’t “change gaming forever” they simply offer another choice in a very large field of choices.

Was AD&D revolutionary for all the changes it made to D&D? Was class/level revolutionary or Class as a separate characteristic from Race on the character sheet? I could find myself making the argument that class and level are one of the single most revolutionary aspects of gaming mechanics as they are fundamental to the some of the most popularly played games today just as they were originally.

How then to compare the innovation of a point-buy system for creating characters over the random rolling of dice to generate attributes? This certainly opened up whole new avenues of gaming and was exactly what a portion of the population was looking for in their experience of the hobby.

Even more interesting to me is the transition from systems built around the d20 and 3d6 dice rolls to systems using Dice Pools (check out Casting Shadows for a take on the dice pool as a favorite revolutionary RPG mechanic). Dice pools using d6s or d10s certainly changed things for a lot of gamers. Then, of course, you have the oddly self-congratulatory d20 system, which effectively refines the original D&D blueprint by emphasizing the d20’s role even more, and somehow ushered in an entire era of gaming in the early 2000s. (I recognize that the mechanic of the d20 was less important than the OGL but many games are still building on this d20 system foundation laid by 3rd edition D&D such as Mutants and Masterminds and Pathfinder).

Hit Points – much maligned, still used – are a heck of an innovation. They effectively deal with a means for tracking the ability of your character to keep pushing forward and emulate the heroic aspect of many mythical heroes in that they rarely suffer debilitating injuries (except when it serves the purposes of the narrative, something the emergent, player/DM controlled D&D steers away from). And even games which do not use hit points often use “hit points in disguise” and simply change the names and ranges of injury or split them into two (or more) pools of points for varying attempts to simulate other things. In the d20 arena, you can look at the Wounds/Vitality split of Star Wars d20, but it’s just as instructive to look at the Health Levels of the World of Darkness (along with Willpower), and the Health/Fatigue split of a game like GURPS. Sanity in Call of Cthulhu is just a special kind of hit points to emulate a special kind of damage your character takes. And Hit Points are a staple of the video game RPG industry even if the way they are tracked is “hidden” from the player in some games. Heck, the fighting game industry puts a health bar above your head, so it’s not just RPGs.

Compare this to the consequence-laden systems of some more modern games (such as FATE) which provide a much narrower window of functional character play and then broaden it by virtue of stacking modifiers on your character. This is certainly an innovative and clever answer to the problem of wanting a very different experience from Hit Points. I’m certainly a fan of the concept if not a fan of the execution… every time I try FATE I just end up disappointed. Obviously, this is not the typical fan experience as it is a very successful and well-loved game. I really want to try Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) to see if my experience is any different.

This, of course, leads me to the “Story Game” revolution. So far, my experience with Story Games has been surprisingly flat. I read some of them and think they are brilliant (I have a serious unrequited love of Polaris. I need to play this game. I don’t want to run this game, I want to play it. It’s so beautiful). Unfortunately, I often find the end result of Story Games to feel more like they are trying to legislate game play to protect players from “naughty GMs” than to provide a better method for sitting at a table with your friends and playing a game that just so happens to also involve creating a cooperative story. Is this a fair review of story games? Probably not in all cases but it certainly is the impression I glean from many of the more popular ones I have encountered. My attitude about this has been evolving though, as some clever games have interpreted the GM-space in interesting ways (e.g., Lead Narrator in Cosmic Patrol) and I do love the shared power of narrative at the game table. I just find many attempts to legislate it to be bureaucratic and cold.

It occurs to me that I have strayed from my first endeavors point without talking about the dice. I have limited experience with early wargaming outside of playing a few Avalon Hill WWII games with my father (still a big fan of Afrika Korps) but the jump from wargaming to adding fantasy elements to “let’s use all these funky dice” seems to be a pretty revolutionary change. More than anything, I think that these wacky dice (see Dungeon Crawl Classics for a modern day revival of the funky dice debate) really could argue for being the most important revolution of the RPG hobby. It’s a hard one to argue with in my mind, especially considering how companies now are attempting to merge story gaming and heavy dice-pooling with games using “Narrative Dice” like Fantasy Flight’s Warhammer Fantasy and Star Wars lines, where the dice don’t even have numbers. Instead they bear icons which trigger specific outcomes in combination with a pile of charts. As an aside, I like the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games but I find the option paralysis and game churning slowness of interpreting dice pools, especially as characters gain more abilities to be a big drawback and it makes it difficult for me to get excited about the game.

There have been numerous attempts to get away from the tyranny of randomness in gaming from the beginning. Re-rolls, modifier points, using playing cards, etc. And as far as the eye can see, people are still coming up with new ways to play around with dice or with an alternative to dice. It’s pretty cool.

But as anyone who knows me will tell you, my favorite revolutionary game mechanic is one that is so rarely implemented well but so brilliant, so exciting, that I keep seeking the holy grail of capturing that magic… and that would be diceless play. I love reading diceless game systems. I love examining how they attempt to maneuver around the randomness space and the GM whim space. I love seeing how they handle combat. Diceless games are still rare beasts, and the pool that I consider “playable” rarer still. Diceless games, specifically those without a randomizing element at all, are like the Questing Beast for me. Playing without dice, without randomization, with only imagination, shared storytelling, and a thin veneer of well-written rules, is still my favorite way to play and the revolutionary idea that most captures my imagination.

Thanks for reading. This one was really fun to write.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 24

August 24th.

Favorite House Rule

I don’t house rule much. Overall, I tend to favor playing games the way they are written. I also tend to embrace the rulings over rules style of play where I’m happier to make a ruling in the moment and if I’m wrong later then I’ll just admit and we’ll do it right the next time.

One house rule I do tend to have for most D&D style games – though I have abandoned this rule for Adventurer Conqueror King System. During the 3rd Edition/3.5 era and extending into 4th Edition, I was incredibly reluctant to allow PCs to be raised from the dead. I effectively banned any “back from the dead” spells.

It was an interesting phase for me as a GM. I want to tread lightly as I try to explain, but overall, I think it was the no consequences power gaming feel of this era of D&D that led me to want the dead to stay dead. ACKS, and several other games have real consequences for dying and alternatives for returns. And consequences, I have discovered, mean a lot to me as a player and a DM.

So, favorite house rule? Yeah, the dead stay dead (or undead).

Thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 23

August 23rd.

Perfect Game For You

Another easy one. I wish there was any competition on this front but I just can’t answer anything but Amber Diceless RPG. There are so many fine games, so many games I love to play and run, but Amber will always be the perfect game for me.

Is it a perfect game? No. It is an exceptional game though. Is it a perfect game for every player or every group? Certainly not. But for me, for my enjoyment and for the kind of play experience I love – you can’t beat Amber.

So… short post today but I’ll take it. I’ve got a game to run tonight!

Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 22

August 22nd.

Perfect Gaming Environment

I have often thought about my perfect gaming environment. Over the years it has evolved quite a bit. My earliest gaming was done at the end of the sidewalk in my cul-de-sac. We would play D&D with our B/X sets and lots of early board games like Saga and Mystic Wood.

Later, my gaming space became my mother’s kitchen table. I like playing near the fridge. I don’t like playing in a high traffic area.

Ask me today and my perfect gaming environment would be a room with built in shelves where I could be surrounded by my books and games and with enough room for a round table which fits up to 8 people comfortably. With enough room to add a mini-fridge and plenty of room to walk around. The round table is important to me. I like round tables to eating, for meetings, and for gaming. Having a table where everyone is equally far from the map/board and able to easily see and respond to each other is definitely my favorite way to play.

But more important, a place without distractions. As time has passed I’ve discovered that it becomes harder to get everyone to just sit down and focus on the game. So minimizing distractions is important to me.

Good stuff and thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 21

August 21st.

Favorite RPG Setting

There are so many great settings. Without a doubt, roleplaying has generated some incredible world-building over the last few decades. Greyhawk, The Known World, the future world of Shadowrun, and that’s not to mention how many licensed properties have been expanded by their RPG appearances.

The answer to this one is tough for me. I love Amber. As much as I love the diceless game based on it, I love the setting just as much. The court of Amber and the Courts of Chaos, the realm of infinite Shadow, and all the amazing personalities inhabiting that universe.

But there is another setting I may love just as much, though I’m not sure if it’s a cop out to call it an RPG setting, as it is more related to a wargame. The Battletech universe is one the richest and most developed universes in gaming. With hundreds of years of recorded history, a long developing saga, and a huge, well-developed cast of characters. I have long loved and followed the world of Battletech ever since I read a random copy of the Star League book.

Of course, they’re both excellent choices, so much like choosing a “best friend” I’m not sure it’s fair to pick one over the other. So Amber or Battletech, both are excellent favorites to have.

Thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 20

August 20th.

Favorite Horror RPG

It’s been an emotional day. Selling my first home and closing tomorrow. It has me not only posting late at night but with a lot of complicated feelings.

I have complicated feelings about horror games too. It is my belief that running a horror game is a nigh-impossible task for a game master. I’ve played in many horror games, and run a few myself and my experience and observation is that players have to almost delude themselves into being scared to make it happen. Horror is a group act and with even the smallest distractions horror quickly transitions into the absurd.

The scariest thing that ever happened at a horror game I was part of was a player setting herself on fire with the candles being used to generate mood. Don’t worry, she was fine. Scary moment though.

I’ve taken a lot of flak about this opinion whenever I’ve expressed it.

But when it comes to horror games, another problem is that I am a fairly hopeful person. I like the “good guys” to win. I can respect a good moment of tragedy but at the end of the day, even in a horror story, I want outcomes that reflect what people bring into them… and the scariest thing in the world for me isn’t monsters… It’s my fellow humans.

And all of this is why my favorite horror game will always be Deadlands. Deadlands is full of weirdness and horror ranging from slasher jump scares to the cosmic horror of the Reckoners. But there is a secret hidden in Deadlands that makes it all work for me.

Tale Tellin. See, here’s the thing, heroes can actually improve the fear rating, can actually make the world a better place by doing great things and telling others about it. Heroes can inspire hope. It’s a dark world and there are awful things in it. It’s a horror game. But it’s a horror game with heroes. And for me, that’s magic.

Thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 19

August 19th.

Favorite Supers RPG

Yesterday, in discussion of his favorite Sci-Fi RPG, Runeslinger made mention of the fact that he “wasn’t sure that RPGs were all that well-suited to the genre.” I often feel this way about superhero RPGs. I didn’t always, but it has been a growing suspicion of mine over the last few years.

It seems that the requirements of the superhero genre need a different mindset than most players bring to an RPG table and that the attempts by various games over the years to work through and around these efforts are largely unsatisfying (at least for me).

When I was younger I bought, read, and played a lot of the supers games then available. I played several editions of the Mayfair Games DC Heroes RPG, played good old Marvel FASERIP, messed around with Champions and V&V. Heck, I carried around the slimmed down version of DC Heroes that was the Batman RPG almost exclusively for several months in 1989/1990. I created a whole superhero setting with GURPS Supers. All the way up to Marvel Saga System in 1998, I would say I was pretty hooked on superhero gaming – at least in theory – as I certainly wasn’t running or playing them much.

Somewhere in there I found the time to run a DC game that lasted about three months, a Marvel Saga game that lasted about a year, a couple attempts at Aberrant (which I got to play in a decently long game of and it was fun), and even a little bit of Champions. But overall, we always found our play experience lacking.

At one point, fascinated by the Green Lantern, it became my test of a supers game to see how well I could get it to model a Green Lantern ring (pre-Geoff Johns rebirth/war of light shenanigans). As far as that test goes, no game has ever done it better than Mutants and Masterminds, First Edition. Speaking of… I played a decent amount of M&M First and Second edition. They also failed to scratch the superhero itch, despite their comprehensive-yet-streamlined power building system. It was also the first game which actually handled both Batman and Superman ends of the superhero spectrum reasonably well. Not actually well, but as well as I’d seen it done so far.

At some point during all this I ended up giving up on supers RPGs. Strangely, this abandonment of supers gaming corresponded with a point in my life when I was actively getting back into superhero comics after a long hiatus.

But ultimately, what it came down to was that supers gaming just didn’t grok for me.

Here’s a few thoughts on why, from personal experience.

  1. I have a hard time selling players on the idea that in ACKS they might not always be the same level as the other characters. In a superhero RPG, the swing-factor in power level is vast, even in games like M&M where everyone starts with the same “points/PL.”
  2. That swing-factor also makes it difficult to fulfill the desires of the players from a “gamey” perspective. I have yet to sit down to a character creation session for a supers game and see players actually come away happy with their PC.
  3. Worse, superhero stories, more than most others, do not benefit from the typical “start low, build up” your character ideal of RPG play. Most superheroes spring into their comics (at least in the modern day) full-formed and rarely change much over the course of their existence. There are exceptions, but these are usually full-on makeovers rather than incremental improvements.
  4. Finally, most RPG players I know are like dogs with a bone. You put a bad guy in front of them and they will bend over backwards, tear out walls, and watch the world burn before they are willing to let that bad guy get away. I don’t know what to blame for this attitude (videogames seem too easy a culprit) but bad guys are “sacks of hp and xp” to most players and it’s tough to convince them otherwise. A writer can tell his hero to let the villain go… a GM cannot tell his players that.

Now, there are whole crops of “modern” super RPGs, from SUPERS to Icons and from yet another edition of M&M to Venture City Stories (based on FATE) to yet another Marvel RPG. And many of these games attempt, in some fashion or another, to legislate/modify player behavior through GM intrusions which are then rewarded. I struggle mightily with these as a player and GM. I don’t think they are good solutions to the problem but I’ll admit that I don’t, at this time, have a better answer to offer.

I like SUPERS – its reliance on dice pools and its allowance to use any trait on your sheet to act/react as long as you can narrate it is very clever. And I like Icons. It gives me a lot of what I want from more “in-depth” supers RPGs but in a streamlined, self-aware, even campy package. There’s a lot to love there.

But I’m not sure, at the end of the day, if I ever want to attempt to run a supers RPG again. I’d certainly try playing in one again, but I don’t know that I’d ever run one again. They just don’t gel for me. I think I want something out of the play experience that I can’t quite name but never seem to find.

Do I have a favorite? Sure, I do. If pressed. If I was going to go back and run a super game again, ever, I’d use the old Marvel Saga System. This game was ahead of its time, very well written, exciting to play, and with enough randomness at character creation that most folks were able to embrace the challenge rather than agonize over their math and how to squeeze out one last power point.

If someone starts a game, let me know.

As always, thanks for reading.


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