All Been Done Before

It is hard to believe that the role playing game hobby is now over 44 years old. Harder still to believe that I have been along for the ride for around 37 years. In all of this time, the outpouring of creative genius has been every day increasing at an exponential rate. It’s got to be nearly impossible to have enough shelving for all the games and their editions, plus adventures, maps, art, and other related works. In all of this, it is rather easy to believe that all of the ideas have been taken and that all of the available content makes the production of new stuff futile at best.

Against this bleak outlook, however, rise the continuing stream of new rules sets to learn, new worlds to explore, new art to marvel at. Even the products which are avowedly inspired in part or altogether are wonderful new perceptions of the old games they are based upon.

And then, of course, there is commentary, most of which is far better than mine. Commentary is the mirror in which we can examine the game from the outside, as well as the jump off for appreciating the quality of the games and the hobby on the whole.

Permission to Suck

I’m not sure where I first found this concept, but when I can keep it mind, I have the power to do anything. In this case as long as I have permission to do badly, to write poorly,to draw awfully, there’s the chance that I might create something wonderful. At least passable, anyhow. Without the leeway it gives, I find I am stuck in the trap expressed so well in the old expression “The Perfect is the enemy of the Good.”

And so, even though it has all been done before, I will find my inspiration and pursue my mediocrity among so many that have gone before. I will draw my maps and monsters, I will write my trite plots and insipid fiction, and I will engineer my ridiculous rules. And so should you, if you feel so inclined.

Table Top RPGs

Frontier Space by DwD Studios

A Review

TLDR summary: Great game, good possibilities for tinkering, great art, good setting, great writing. Buy it, for it is fun.

I will admit first of all that I have been looking forward to this game for quite some time. When I bought BareBones Fantasy several years ago, I learned that the authors had taken the system they loved from Star Frontiers and had carved it down to a lighter version which they called the D00 Lite system. Among the changes made to the system, attributes were changed, a new critical mechanic was given, and skills were changed to the class-as-skill model I have seen used successfully here and elsewhere. The BBF game was really a great innovation, to my mind, and I was left with an eager desire for the day when I would see my old friend Star Frontiers (by TSR back in the early 80s) take flight again in this system. I eagerly devoured Covert Ops soon after BBF,  and saw a few more changes to the system that adapted the game to that setting, showing how versatile the game engine could be. My eagerness only grew.

Now that I have my copy of the game, I am even more eager to take it for a spin.

The first thing I saw from the game was in the notice of the download which contained the author’s’ invitation for anyone to take the system and setting and do whatever they liked with it under the Creative Commons license. This impresses me especially as a game tinkerer and is a refreshing change from some other games. I already have a couple setting ideas that almost write themselves, and a few more ideas within the setting as it is written.

And now the game itself.

In the introduction of the game the primary setting ideal is explained, that this game is about small fish in a very big ocean. The frontier is the star of the show, so to speak, and the players part of a far larger whole. Here I got a glimpse of the quality of writing I could expect throughout the book, which was engaging and clear; dramatic yet succinct (if I am using that word correctly.) It is a gritty setting. The discussion then continues to explain the role players and referees each serve in, and the all-important golden rule of RPGs, that when the GM makes a ruling, accept it and move along.

The dice system is broken down and explained in the beginning of the first chapter. All dice are ten sided. Most rolls will be percentile, with two zeroes read as 00 and not 100. You succeed if you roll under the target number, usually a skill plus an attribute plus modifiers. Rolls for damage or some other effects are the dice rolled and added together. There are six attributes which cover whatever your character is going to do.

Skills follow the class as skill model as in the other outings of D00 Lite, but here instead of the previous games’ formula to arrive at the overall skill, it is simply expressed as a number between -20 (untrained) and +30 (top in the universe) with 0 being basic professional level training. At first I was thrown by this idea, but as I got used to it, I began to see how brilliant this is. For one, it is possible to use the same skill with multiple attributes. If you have a Medic skill, for instance, you could use it with Perception to examine your patient, with Coordination to perform surgery, and Willpower when you are telling the patient to relax and heal.

Character creation is in the second chapter, and has a couple of neat points. You can roll for your attributes and then put the rolls where you want them or choose a predetermined array that includes a good mix of values to give a character enough depth without being overpowered yet. Species are discussed elsewhere in detail but are conveniently summarized here. The Referee’s book will have the means to create new species but the five included in the book are plenty to start with. (I have to wonder how hard it would be to adapt the various fantasy races from the BBF supplement Flesh and Blood. Probably pretty easy, and just a bit of re-flavoring and reskinning.) Characters start with one skill at 0 and two at -10. This I like because you then have a character that can do one thing well and a couple others (out of 12) that they do sort of well. I like the way character creation comes together as a fast and easy thing.

The rest of the book follows along as a logical progression through the technology and the culture of the game and winds it all up with the setting. While glossing over much of the book and encouraging you with my opinion that it comes together well, is well written, and engaging, I will say that the game makes a few assumptions that pinch just a little. The setting is somewhat limited to a couple dozen systems but with a lot outside of this area left nebulous enough to be mysterious and so forth, but in saying that I have to giggle a little at myself since I haven’t seen more than a quarter on my own state and rarely leave a  hundred mile circle of that. Ships are kind of on the small side but only when compared to Star Destroyers and Trek ships. The only other annoying thing about the setting is the number of loose ends set up in it which would all be things one could use as story hooks to get player characters doing cool stuff.

It would be really easy, though, to port in any setting you like with this game.

The artwork throughout the book is pretty cool and captures the essence of a spacefaring gritty story based game. Only a couple of the spaceship drawings were not quite up to my standards, but are still a ton better than what I manage. One thing the old game did that is rare to find elsewhere in science fiction shows and games was that almost all of the ships were built on the tower model rather than the boat model, which is to say that in a spaceship decks would be best placed perpendicular to the thrust so that you have acceleration as your false gravity. There is very little evidence that gravity floors would be possible let alone cheap enough to be ubiquitous. It appears that the space vessels are built on the boat model for the most part. Really that is my only gripe with the art. Everything else is awesome. Those boat model space ships are pretty awesome, too, really.

Fair or not, I judge games on several criteria, mostly having to do with feelings. Frontier Space wins first because I have been excited for a long time to get it. It wins again in how confident in the way the rules are laid out that I could easily play and enjoy it. It wins in that I can see myself walking around on many of the described worlds, talking to Yar, Erakai, and Novim friends. It wins in that I can see piloting huge freighters and nimble fighters through the deep voids of space. It wins in that I cannot think of any ways in which it loses, with the only exception being the relative obscurity of the game, which is something I can at least try to do something about through this review and getting the word out on other places.

I was going to ask for more D&D books for Christmas and birthdays upcoming, but since i got this as an early present from a kind benefactor, I think I would rather get printed copies of this book and the referee’s book, which together would be less than either the 5th Edition DMG or Monster book.


Why Did I Ever?

Why did I ever stop enjoying <Game X> ?

I am, as the blog name implies, not very good at picking a system and sticking to it. My game hobby experience can be broken down into roughly 4 phases. First, there was TSR, meaning in particular D&D, AD&D, Gamma World, and Star Frontiers. Second there was Steve Jackson Games, mostly GURPS of one flavor and another. During this phase, I was into numerous settings, even converting other games to GURPS for ease of getting others into them, which worked mostly but occasionally I would blunder along while my group moved on past me to simplifying and hacking the settings as they saw fit with dizzying speed. Third, the revolt of the group as they got into trading card games and the Vampire larping scene. I followed along, but I did so reluctantly. My Fourth phase, which is my current, can be characterized as going for the obscure; beginning with Savage Worlds when it was gaining its amazing popularity and then losing interest when it was in its prime. I have yet to find the game I will stick to, dabbling in a lot of really nifty games.

Sometimes I moved on from a game because my friends were. More recently I have been greatly influenced by internet propaganda and hype, getting excited, buying in, and then losing interest when it seems that the wave has passed. Sometimes I quit a system because continuing with it was getting too costly. With Savage Worlds, in particular, I saw the required outlay growing from a scene filled with freely shared hacks to one where there was a lot of great stuff around for increasing prices.


Table Top RPGs

I Did It!

I actually got back to the table top and played a session and a half of 5th Edition D&D with a mostly new to me group.

That may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but I have been struggling with social anxiety and chronic pain for quite a while, and my gaming at the table tapered off and then vanished about a year ago. I am giving myself permission to go and be a bore or good company as it may fall. I give myself permission to make poor character choices in the name of story. I give myself permission to get up and go when the pain gets too overwhelming, or to take whatever is prescribed and hang around all loopy and goofy.

I had a really good time both Saturday and Monday, and I look forward to many games in the future. I may even run a few, though those will be either Basic D&D or one of my many other games; I am not in coin at the moment.


Computer Games · General · Table Top RPGs

Why Fallout is not MY post-apocalypse

I first played the game Fallout when it was released, and I spent a lot of time with the various iterations of that franchise, missing only New Vegas. I love the nods given to the earlier media, such as the leather armor (the “road leathers” in FO4) referencing the costume Mel Gibson wore in the Mad Max movies, particularly The Road Warrior. I like the various factions and the description of the world after the disastrous war of 2077.

But these were not my gateway into the world after civilization.

In 1980 or so, I got the box set for Gamma World. I had been playing D&D for just long enough to be eager to devour each issue of Dragon when it got to my local library, and this new game was advertised, and something inside me needed the game. Some of my most memorable scenes were from that game. It still strongly influences me in my gaming choices. Unconsciously, I weigh every game I mean to get into against it. Every setting is measured against the world as imagined by its authors (as then interpreted by my 12 year old understanding of it).

So then what else gets there for me. Well, I missed out on the hype train around the recent edition of Gamma World as seen through the D&D4 lens, so I didn’t get it and really haven’t looked at it more. Shadowrun was also a post-apoc I could and did enjoy. The recent slou of games in the OSR tradition based to some degree or another on GW are really cool, and I have enjoyed as many as I have looked at. The upcoming nod from the guys behind Dungeon Crawl Classic looks really nifty. Also the background behind Wil Wheaton’s “Ashes of Volcana” setting for the Fantasy AGE game is pretty cool, though for me it misses some essentials.

The elements that make a post-toasty (term from THuD) cool for me include

  • It happened here- to some degree or another it is this world that has passed away.
  • Psionics or magic is a thing
  • Mutations can be both good and bad, but the chaos of the apocalypse leaves no two beings too similar.
  • The original critter needn’t be a human. Best if it is possible to be any sort of animal, robot or maybe even a plant.
  • The world has been destroyed, but there is hope still in our protagonists’ hearts. -I like a tale of rebuilding, not one of further drift into death.

I do not think there is any way the current iterations of the Fallout franchise can be anything like a real role playing experience as created by folks around a table. I do not see how it could be possible for the computer based games to allow for the amazing variety of possible characters a real tabletop game can provide, nor can it provide for the level of choice in the actions of the player characters.




The Cost of Obsession

How fascination with computer role-playing games sucks up all of my time.

I have a life that revolves around the pain Nexus in the high center of my back. It is not surprising, then, that I am very fond of getting out of my own life and being in the place of some other. In the past my best bet for this was sitting down with a table full of fellow role playing game players, but with the Advent of the wonderful computer game available I find that escape easier and quicker unless complicated. The trouble is I want so badly to be out of my own life and in this other where I have power, glory, and wealth that in anything that even seems to help a little to distract me from my troubles, be it food, videos, or c-rpgs, become obsessions or even addictions.

Table Top RPGs

Pip System Released!

Third Eye Games new generic rules are released and available at the One Bookshelf sites RPGnow andDrivethrurpg.  My first scan through the pages show me a decent set of rules and how those rules can work in a number of different ways to make for a good gaming experience. A couple of things stick out to me to be aware of when buying this pdf. The first is that if you like to print out pages or the whole book for use at the table, the pdf is layered letting you turn off the background colors for a printer friendliness. The second is that while the rules call for six sided dice, the majority of rolls could be made just as effectively with any binary random selectors you might have. I picture using pennies and nickels when the black and white dice are called for. The only difference is that certain abilities make it so sixes count double, and unskilled shot-in-the-dark rolls only succeed on a 1. If you neither have the special abilities nor are unskilled, coins flipped will do, it seems.

Is it really going to be worth fifteen bucks?

As fully realized generic rule sets go, this is in fact a fair bargain. Some, like Savage Worlds, are cheaper by a bit, but I have to point out that for the most part, you use SW with another supplemental world book while The Pip System is geared to work pretty much out of the book with no more than the usual session prep time. There will be game books coming out based on The Pip System, some of which were stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign, but each of these will be a stand-alone book without need for the basic rules open alongside.

The artwork throughout the book is charming. The page background is friendly to the eyes. The fonts are well chosen and easy to read at speed. Not as gorgeous as some books, but then I spent half as much as I would have for them.