RPG-a-Day is an annual event in which bloggers spend a month talking about different aspects of role-playing games. Rather than spread this out over several blog posts, I’ve rolled up my entries into one mega-post.
Day 1: What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
Dungeon World (or one of the other Powered by the Apocalypse) variants. The removes the infinite flexibility inherent in most role-playing game systems by giving you a menu of moves that your character — based on their class — can take. Those moves can yield failures, successes, or extreme successes and are based on certain archetypal maneuvers (e.g. fighters hack’n’slash, wizards cast spells, etc.).
The game stresses collaborative world building with the game master serving as more of a guide and less of a story teller; there are certain overarching themes that the GM may establish, but it’s up to the group to decide how the campaign unfolds. I’d love to run a 3-5 session mini-campaign of Dungeon World to put the game through its paces and encourage everyone in my gaming group (myself included) to attack the game from a different angle.
My runner up would be Hollow Earth Expedition, because I’d love to have some pulpy adventures inside the Earth. Dinosaurs and Nazis … who could say no?
Day 2: What is an RPG you would like to see published?
The Terminator RPG. Years ago, when The Sarah Connor Chronicles was still on the air, I toyed with creating a Terminator-themed one-shot using the Cortex system then being used in Battlestar Galactica and Firefly role-playing games.
I envisioned basing the game around time-lost warriors sent back to the machine, with some sort of built-in flash back mechanic that let them build out their characters’ future capabilities based on their past experiences in the Future War. I still love the idea, though if I did it now I’d use FATE. As a convention game, I’d leave a few Aspects undefined and then have players fill those in as part of their Future War flashbacks.
Day 3: How do you find out about new RPGs?
For the most part, Twitter and research for my Knights of the Dinner Table. With Twitter, I keep a half-an-eye on my feed, watching for mentions of new or interesting games. Those I’m curious about I’ll delve deeper into via podcasts or blogs.
I’ve been writing my Webscryer column for Knights of the Dinner Table since 2000. Each monthly column finds me scouring the web for RPG-inspired websites, podcasts, blog posts, wikis, and more; unsurprisingly I’ve found out about a tremendous number of games, new and old.
Podcasts used to be a major source of new games for me, but many of the ones I used to listen to have podfaded, and I’m still searching for some good, general interest podcasts that cover this sort of thing.
Day 4: Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. My main gaming group, the Blackrazor Guild, currently has two campaigns running:
- Heart of Darkness: A legacy campaign set 60 years after our original Blackrazor D&D campaign in the World of Greyhawk. It started off as a level-per-session 5e playtest campaign meeting in the real world but has evolved into a more traditional campaign taking place on Roll20.
- Tales from the Tower: A series of high-level one shots and double shots featuring those our Blackrazor characters. This campaign’s aimed at teaching us how to game master and play at high levels in anticipation of bringing the really high level characters (18+) out of retirement to fight the legendary black dragon Woryx.
I also have a lunchtime campaign that I play with friends at work. That campaign — Broken Land is winding down; we’ll likely start a new campaign based on Princes of the Apocalypse adventure path.
Day 5: Which cover best captures the spirit of the game.
The first edition Player’s Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons, with its icon depiction of adventurers prying a gem out of a gigantic goblinoid statue. D.A. Trampier’s illustration epitomized the game for me. Well, at least 10 year old me; my tastes have changed, but it’s still captures the sense of exploration, adventure … and, well, tomb raiding that’s always been a big part of the game.
Day 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you do.
I’d get my RPG friends together and play all the games that I’m dying to play but don’t have time for:
- Day 1: Hollow Earth Expedition
- Day 2: Diaspora
- Day 3: Pulp Cthulhu
- Day 4: Dungeon World
- Day 5: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Cortex)
- Day 6: Burning Wheel
- Day 7: GURPS Hellboy
Day 7: What as your most impactful RPG session?
“The Fall of Obsidian Bay”, which was one of the culminating storylines of our 10+ year, Blackrazor Guild campaign. It pulled together story threads that had been building for years and featured a great mix of personal conflict (the hero Kalib Ironfist finally confronting the man who killed his master and usurped the Blackrazor Guild) and large scale combat (and invading army of Scarlet Brotherhood foot soldiers, sahuagin, and a particularly huge, wingless wyrm).
Runner up would be the “Starforged” skill challenge we ran for our Star Wars: Saga Edition. It featured the heroes attempting to navigate their freighter through a protostar nebula and failing heroically. Keeping with the idea that failure is still interesting, the encounter led to the fusing of the ship’s outer hull, giving it something the group lovingly called “starforged armor”. The scene illustrated the power of the skill challenge as a narrative device, and it’s something we’ve used repeatedly since then.
Day 8: What is an RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?
Savage Worlds powered by lunchtime The Day After Ragnarok game for several years. The fast and furious nature of the game was particularly well suited to a campaign that was played in 1 hour intervals. The characters were streamlined, with notable but limited abilities, the villains were easy to create, and not needing to track hit points for mooks and important NPCs eliminated a lot of book keeping.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, the engine for my current lunchtime campaign, isn’t bad (and is certainly far better than D&D 3rd Edition or Pathfinder) but part of me still longs to return to Savage Worlds.
Day 9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions
From what I’ve read (but never played) Dungeon World would be great for this. It’s collective world creation would make for an excellent opening session and the subsequent nine sessions would give folks a chance to really explore that new world.
Day 10: Where do you go for RPG reviews?
RPG.net and the “News, Reviews, and Culture” portion of RPG Bloggers. That said between going to fewer conventions and my gaming group’s focus on D&D 5th Edition, I find myself looking for new games less and less. Plus, I’ve found that Wizards of the Coast’s minimal release schedule for D&D has led to higher quality for the books they do release so I’m less likely to need a review in the first place.
Day 11: What ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?
Star Frontiers. It was the first non-Dungeons & Dragons game I ever played. I only played it a handful of times, but I bought every expansion I could in hopes that some day I’d finally get to run a campaign. That day never came. A rebooted Star Frontiers, powered by D&D 5th Edition, would be fantastic.
Day 12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition’s Player’s Handbook comes immediately to mind because its art does everything I’d want from a modern iteration of the game. It’s inclusive in a seamless way, with illustrations of different races, cultures, and genders that reflect the game’s evolving fantasy milieu. It’s the sort of artwork that makes you say “damn, I want to play that character”.
Day 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play
My first Call of Cthulhu game in college opened my eyes to how intense a good role-playing game session could be. Until that point my games had been the typical sword-and-sorcery fair with the typical geeky cross talk and Monty Python jokes. That Call of Cthulhu session was different — we played by candle light, creepy music playing in the background, everyone completely into their characters. We’d jump at unexpected sounds — a rap on the table by the DM, a sudden surge of wind outside — as our characters explored a haunted house. It was — and still is — one of the best role-playing game experiences of my life.
That session taught me how story-focused and intense and RPG can be, and while I don’t think I’ve ever achieved that level in my own games, it inspired me to focus more on telling the tale and engaging the characters, and less on setting up a by-the-numbers boss battle.
Day 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?
Once again, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. It does almost everything my gaming group wants it to do, and what it doesn’t do out of the box, we can house rule. The rules themselves hang together well and play fast enough that we can quickly advance the story (regardless of whether that’s through social encounters or combat ones).
Day 15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most.
Savage Worlds, without a doubt. The core rules plus the various companions for science fiction, fantasy, and horror, let you easily cook up just about sort of game you want. Sure, there all going to have that fast, fun, furious vibe that Pinnacle is always striving for, but even that can be toned down or beefed up with a few tactical rule changes.
Day 16: Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
At this point, D&D 5th Edition. We’ve had to house rule more and more things as we convert our legacy 2e and 3e characters to the game, but for new characters in a standard campaign setting it runs great out of the box.
Day 17: Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
Star Wars d6. I won the 2nd edition core rule book at Bogglecon (a now defunct local gaming convention) twenty years ago along with the Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising Sourcebooks, but I’ve never played it.
Day 18: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
Easily some flavor of D&D. As for the specific edition, it’s likely D&D 3rd Edition (including the 3.5 and Pathfinder variants) although D&D 2nd Edition is a close second.
Day 19: Which RPG features the best writing?
The original Delta Green campaign guide and its follow-up, Delta Green: Countdown published by Pagan Publishing for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. The books ooze horror and reading scenarios like “The Night Floors” [pdf] is best done during the day. Both books expertly capture the mood of relentless dread and insanity-inducing diligence that permeate the Delta Green campaign setting.
Day 20: Which is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?
For my purposes with Dungeons & Dragons its the Dungeon Masters Guild, which is selling PDFs and physical re-prints of many of the classic D&D books. That’s helpful when I’m writing up a World of Greyhawk adventure and discover that a particular book or module that I don’t have included key information that I can use in my game. Aside from that I typically hit up vendors at GenCon or Origins, but at this point I rarely look for out of print stuff.
Day 21: Which RPG does the most with the least words?
Risus: The Anything RPG. It’s a slim little role-playing game that’s easy to play and fast to set-up. I toyed with using it to run a lightweight Mechwarrior campaign back in the day.
Day 22: Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run.
In terms of off-the-shelf readiness, Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was likely the easy game for me to prep and run. Though the game had its flaws, they served the dungeon master well by giving you everything you needed to run a monster in its statblock and ample tools for generating treasure bundles. The math was straightforward, and the game had a clear (if perhaps too focused) progression.
In terms of games I can quickly put together and run without a lot of notice, Savage Worlds. Non-player characters are easy to throw together and there isn’t a whole lot of rules-prep that I need to do.
Day 23: Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?
I don’t know that I’d call it “jaw-dropping” but I enjoyed the layout of Monte Cook’s Numenera. It has artwork that does a good job of evoking the setting and an attractive page design, but what I liked most where the margin callouts that served as a sort of in-page index referring you to particular concepts elsewhere in the book.
Day 24: Share a PWYW publisher should be charging more
I couldn’t say; I haven’t had enough experience with “Pay What You Want” publishers for role-playing games.
Day 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?
Take care of some essential part of the game night, whether its the discussion thread that organizes the game, making sure there are snacks on game day, or taking session notes. Anything that makes the game master’s life easier is a great way to say “thanks”.
A gift certificate to RPGNow isn’t bad either.
Day 26: Which RPG provides the most useful resources?
Star Wars: Saga Edition. Of the course 14 books they published a tremendous range of resources for the game master, from campaign arcs to one shots to monsters to micro rule systems. It was, in many ways, a love letter to game masters everywhere. It felt like Rodney Thompson (the lead developer at the time at Wizards of the Coast) was saying “I get how hard your job is … here’s some help.”
Day 27: What are your essential tools for good gaming?
- Index cards: Great for notes, great for tracking initiative
- Markdown: My writing format of choice; I typically use Typora as my editor.
- Wet erase markers and a battle map: Whether its D&D-style combat or theatre of the mind, it helps to have something to sketch on
- My MacBook Pro: I rely on it for my notes, my combat-tracking spreadsheets, and my soundtracks.
Day 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?
Curiously, I think our tendency to to quote movies has declined steadily over the years. If I had to pick one movie, it would be Boondock Saints, with its references to serial crushers and what to do with [expletive] rope.
Day 29: What has been the best RPG Kickstarter you have backed?
Numenera in 2012. Monte Cook runs a kickass kickstarter and I got everything I backed in a timely manner, including a print copy of the core rules and a plethora of PDFs. My gaming group ended up not loving the game as much as we thought we would, but still, the Kickstarter went off without a hitch.
Ultimately — and I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one — I’m hoping it’s the Delta Green kickstarter. I backed the standalone RPG back in 2015 at the “Case Officer’s Manual” level. The developer’s have been making steady progress on the game — we’ve seen a player’s manual reach print as well as a host of scenarios and supplemental materials for the game, but they’re still working on that “Case Officer’s Manual”.
They’ve been upfront about their difficulties and have been sure to share updates on the book as it makes its slow, steady way toward production (the latest being that they’ll be printing the game as two-book folio consisting of a player’s manual and a case officer’s one).
When all is said and done, I think it’s going to be a fantastic kickstarter that provides all of the resources I could ever want to run a game … but they have to finish it.
Day 30: What is an RPG genre-mash up you’d like to see?
I finally got Pulp Cthulhu in 2017, so I think I’m good for the foreseeable future.
Day 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?
Seeing my son become a dungeon master. He and his friends have been playing D&D for the last two years with me as the Dungeon Master. Unfortunately with my time commitments — and my own gaming group — I’m only able to run one game a month for him. He wants to play more — all the kids do — but there’s no way I can do it. I told him this and explained that there’s an easy solution … he can be the dungeon master.
He’s hesitant. It’s not that he can’t do it, it’s that he really likes being a player. I’ve been trying to convince him that being a dungeon master is just as good as being a player — after all, in Dungeons & Dragons the DM is in charge of the entire world. Why play just one character when you can play dozens? Plus, in my experience the group is the thing … if they were playing every week, eventually they’d attract more players, and hopefully one of them would also want to dungeon master. Of course, that’s not a sure thing — my group is lucky that it has so many people willing to dungeon master — but its certainly something the group can work towards.
He gets it … sort of. And he’s admitted that he’d be up for it at some point … but he wants to play more games as a player first. I’m hopefully that he’ll finally step behind the screen sometime before 2018 is out.