Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 23

23rd) Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

This is a difficult question for me to answer, partly because "jaw-dropping" is not a word that often occurs to me when considering RPG books, and partly because I own a number of quite lovely RPG products.

I've already mentioned the full-color interior art of Blue Rose, Second Edition (see Day 12). The book's art director and graphic designer, Hal Mangold, has been making Green Ronin books look amazing for quite some time now, and he keeps finding ways to outdo himself time and time again. Other titles that Hal has designed in the past 2-3 years include Freeport: The City of Adventure, the Freeport Bestiary, and The Book of the Righteous--and those are just the gems that I personally own.

Apart from Hal's work, the first book that occurs to me is Big Eyes Small Mouth, Second Edition. The rulebook was in full color, with a bright, bold layout and lots of lots of colorful anime-style art throughout. (Sadly, I lost my copy in a flood. My Second Edition Revised book survived; it reproduced most of the art, but often at a smaller size and only in black and white.) The BESM Third Edition rulebook was full color and quite pretty as well, but it just wasn't as lush in presentation as the Second Edition.

And finally, I composed most of this post ahead of time, before I bought the Starfinder Core Rulebook last week, but that book deserves at least an honorable mention here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 18-22 (Eclipse Edition)

My family and I will be traveling the next few days to see the total eclipse and do general sightseeing in Nashville, so I've decided to post my answers to the next few days' questions now.

18th) Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
19th) Which RPG features the best writing?
20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?
21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?
22nd) Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

18th) Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

This is an easy one: Dungeons & Dragons. I've been playing and DMing one edition or another of that game ever since I was first introduced to RPGs in middle school around 35 years ago. I played Basic and Expert in middle school, Advanced in high school, and 2nd Edition in college. I promptly adopted v.3.0 and v3.5 when they were released, but didn't care for 4th Edition much, so continued running and playing v.3.5 until my group decided to switch to Pathfinder a few years ago. Fifth Edition has won me back, and I'm running it for my kids so we can all learn the new rules.

19th) Which RPG features the best writing?

I'm not sure how to judge the "best" writing, but I would have to say that the Buffy and Angel RPGs are the two rulebooks that have been the most entertaining to read. Most RPG rulebooks tend to get pretty dry reading after a while, but very little of the Buffy core rulebook is. The prose is very conversational, and peppered with witticisms in the style of the TV series--but that casual, snarky style never gets in the way of explaining the rules clearly.

20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

Given my shopping habits, I'd have to say RPG hobby shops and used book stores.

Many game stores will have a used game section, where items are greatly discounted. When I lived in Boston, my FLGS (Pandemonium Books and Games) had a rather extensive used game section, with most items marked at half the cover price. Some games languish on the used shelves because they just aren't good enough to sell even at a discount, but you can occasionally find a real gem among the dross. Pandemonium also had a "Black Hole" clearance shelf for items (both used and new) that hadn't moved in far too long; as time passed, those items moved to gradually more discounted shelves, ending at 90% off if still not sold.

Used bookstores will sometimes have role-playing games sections. Both Half Price Books stores in my area (Lexington, KY) have a full bay of RPG books, from a wide variety of games, both recent and venerable. Though none of the following were out of print, I scored a huge pile of Pathfinder hardcovers at HBP last year, and discovered the OneDice system there, which I bought for my kids.

21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?

Fate Accelerated Edition. This 48-page book distills all the essential elements of the Fate system into a compact, streamlined game that can be used for almost any adventure genre.

This system is used in many of Evil Hat Production's recent games, like the new edition of Dresden Files. My one opportunity to play it so far was a short campaign using Do: Fate of the Flying Temple.

Best of all, the rulebook is available as a pay-what-you-like PDF from the Evil Hat website, or for only $5 in print.

22nd) Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

BESM Third Edition and D&D Fifth Edition. I'm sure that I would find BESM a lot more work to run for any campaign that was not a solo game, but for that, it's served us extremely well.

I'm still learning D&D 5E, but the rules are far, far simpler than any edition since 2nd, and it still captures the classic feel of the game. Running published adventures for my kids (Lost Mine of Phandelver and The Sunless Citadel) has been pretty easy so far. And it's the first edition in a while that I would not feel completely overwhelmed using to run the massive and dangerous Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (which, as I've discussed here before, is a goal of mine).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

TBT: #Drawlloween 2016

I participated in #Drawlloween 2016 here on my blog. However, I sprained my hand near the end of October, so couldn't continue for a couple weeks, and posted Days 24-28 in November.

I also drew sketches for Days 29-30, but never posted them online. Now that I have copied all my #Drawlloween work to DeviantArt (here), I have corrected that oversight.

Much of the reason that I forgot to post Days 29-20 at the time was that I never completed Day 31 ("Trick 'R' Treat"). I had intended to draw a picture of my old Buffy RPG character, Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, in a Halloween costume. (See here and here for more about Trick.) To do her justice would have required much more time and effort than my very quick drawings from the rest of that month, and my injured hand wasn't up to it yet. To fill that void, I have uploaded an older drawing of Trick as Animal (below), which I drew back when that RPG campaign was still active.


#RPGaDay 2017: Day 17

17th) Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

Spaceship Zero, from Green Ronin. It was published in 2002, and I acquired a copy in early 2003. It's based on the album of the same name by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and was designed (and partly illustrated) by members of the band. It's a quirky mix of '50s radio-serial SF tropes and Lovecraftian horror (the main villains, the Hydronauts, are clearly "Deep Ones in spaaaaaace"). I've compiled some unofficial errata for the game, but never played it.

GURPS Fourth Edition (Steve Jackson Games, 2004) is a close second. I played a lot of GURPS Third Edition back in the '90s, but my regular group had drifted off to other games (primarily D&D v.3.0/v.3.5) by the time 4E came out, so we never made the move to that rules set. Which is a shame, because I won a copy of the Basic Set through the 4E iconics lookalikes contest when SJ Games was first promoting the new edition. (I built the warbot C31R07 in LEGO. My strategy of appealing to Evil Stevie's other hobbies worked!) I also sold a single 4E article to Pyramid ("The Mirror Dance: Playing Twins in GURPS," June 24, 2005).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #12: Alarming Some Orcs

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jubair, human rogue 3.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor 3 [deity not yet known to most of the PCs].
  • Lucretia Scavola, half-elf monk (zen archer) 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
Last time, our heroes captured Tarifa, a halfling witch who had been spying on Spine Hollow for the Ghost Fist Clan. They delivered their prisoner to the settlement's druid leaders. The interrogation provided more information on the Ghost Fists and their leaders, and confirmed that this orc tribe worships the death god Asmolon.

After the party had a good long rest, they were called to speak with Razima again. She thanked the party for their deeds of the previous night, and informed them that Tarifa had provided more details on where Ilgash's secret hideout was located. Razima had recognized enough of the landmarks to give directions to Tailless, who would lead the party there to deal with the orcs. Spine Hollow's resources are very limited, but she asked if there was anything they could provide to help. Jumari requested healing potions, and the druids were able to supply two, as well as food and water.

Tailless said that it would take a little over a day to reach the cave, which was found in a branching ravine is some rocky badlands. Near the center of this ravine was the spring and a cave used by the orcs.

They traveled at night (with ample light from the moon, which was still full). Once Tailless informed them that they were only a couple hours' travel from the ravine, they decided to send scouts ahead while it was still dark, but to delay their attack on the hideout until daylight. Jumari and ZhaZha were aware that many of the desert's orc tribes have adapted to the daylight, so they could not count on bright light impairing their foes. However, the orcs would have a distinct advantage over most of the party at night, so they decided it would still be best to attack in daylight.

Jubair and Lucretia scouted ahead and found the ravine, while ZhaZha patroled on camel-back closer to the rest of the party. The rogue and monk entered the ravine, and reached the fork without problems, Here, they saw a spring trickling from the side of the ravine to form a small pool. They also saw a cave beyond it, and a single orc standing guard upon a rocky spire that gave a view of all three approaches. The sentry did not appear to be very attentive, however, and did not spot them.

Map of the ravine and hideout entrance. (Based on "BG-Desert-04," by gogot at Deviant Art.

They returned to the others, and Lucretia (who had some training in tactics) reported what they found, and started the discussion of how to best approach the orcs. The party agreed that they needed to lure the orcs out of their cave in order to kill them. They decided that a distraction was needed, so chose to split the party: ZhaZha would scout around to find the southern entrance to the ravine, and she and Tailless (riding her axebeak, Cluck) would enter from that direction. ZhaZha suggested they use the axebeak's cry as a signal that they were in position and ready to attack. In addition, Fatou send her owl familiar with the riders; she would know they were close (within a mile) when her empathic link reestablished itself.

The assault begins!
The group on foot entered the ravine, and reached the branch without being spotted by the sentry. They heard the jingling of (ZhaZha's) armor from the south. So did the sentry, who moved back out of sight. Seeing this, Jumari cast shield of faith upon herself in preparation for a fight. The sounds of this might have also alerted the guard.

Lucretia began climbing the shelves at the base of the spire in order to reach the sentry's previous position. She had some trouble getting purchase, until Jubair climbed up and gave her a boost.

Tailless had Cluck squawk a call, and rushed forward to the intersection. The cave was located in a nearby cul-de-sac, so Edel cast grease on the ground at the narrowest part of this passage.  Jumari cast expeditious retreat upon herself and rushed to the opposite side of the spire, where a rough ramp allowed the sentry to reach the bottom. The orc cast bane on the party, but only Edel was affected. Fatou then moved forward and cast sleep upon the sentry.

The trapped orcs on the defensive.
Jumari was able to dimly see at least one orc standing just inside the cave. She heaped insults upon the orcs, to which they answered by shooting at her. Another orc rushed out and moved to engage the inquisitor. ZhaZha and Tailless reached the scene and dismounted, because there was no room for their animals. The cavalier promptly moved in to flank the orc warrior--a barbarian, who was starting to rage. Meanwhile, Jubair sneak attacked the sleeping sentry to make sure he wouldn't wake up.

The orcs' leader attempted to cast sleep on Jumari and failed. Lucretia, who had moved to the top of the spire, shot this orc and took her down with a nasty critical hit. Jumari could faintly heard a shocked exclamation in Orcish about "Ilgash" going down, but then a masked, robed figure began tending to the fallen leader.

Two more orcs joined the fray outside--a lightly armored thug with a greatclub, and a warrior with scalemail and a scimitar. The orc barbarian struck ZhaZha hard with his falchion, but her return blow dropped him.

Jubair jumped down from the spire's ramp, and used some small ledges on the ravine wall near the cave to bypass the central melee in the cul-de-sac. The masked figure retreated into the cave, out of sight, so Jubair rushed into the cave to deal with it.

Edel cast a second grease spell, which toppled both of the orcs still standing outside. The greatclub wielder tried to stand but was cut down by attacks of opportunity. Jumair passed over the greased area, but stayed upright, and beheaded the barbarian.

Ilgash (with mohawk) returns to the fight.
At this point, Ilgash stood up once again, partially healed and angry. She tried to cast cause fear on Jumari, but failed. Lucretia shot her and Tailless stabbed her, finally dropping her for good. The masked person spotted Jubair next to him the cave, and cast a surprisingly feeble burning hands. Jubair took him down quickly after that.

This left no conscious foes on the field. The party checked the bodies to see if any survived. Two did--Ilgash herself, and the barbarian--so the heroes stabilized them to interrogate. The party then took some time to catch their breaths and search the bodies and the cave.

Edel detected no magic on the orcs beyond a single potion, but some of them had a masterwork weapon or armor.

The cave was big enough to fit a dozen or so filthy bedrolls, a few barrels (one holding water, one holding some unappetizing dried food, one holding spare javelins) and a large flat rock that looks like it was used to prepare food and such. They found a disguise kit near one of the bedrolls, and a small pouch of gold in another. Finally, a very long pole with a tattered banner (a crudely painted white fist) was propped against a wall near the entrance.
Last orc down.

The orcs: (front, L-R): sentry, Ilgash, barbarian;
(rear, L-R): warrior, thug, masked spellcaster.

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 15-16

My kids start school tomorrow, so to give myself one less thing to worry about then, I've decided to post tomorrow's question along with today's. And as you'll see, they're closely related questions.

My regular weekly blog will still be posted Wednesday or Thursday. This week's installment will feature a new "Time of the Tarrasque" session.

15th) Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Call of Cthulhu. Apart from trying one of the brief solo adventures back in college (when my roommate owned a copy), I have never played Call of Cthulhu using Chaosium's original BRP rules. I have, however, acquired a sizable CoC library, and have adapted it for use in other game systems: I ran a couple short GURPS campaigns using the rules in GURPS CthulhuPunk; I've co-written a short, silly LARP titled "Miskatonic Regional Elementary School"; and I've run three campaigns in Green Ronin's Freeport setting, which is steeped in Lovecraftian horror. I'm also partly responsible for the volume of Cthulhu Mythos elements that appeared in the long-time Buffy campaign I played in; my first character pitch was a essentially a Deep One hybrid, and the GM gleefully ran with it.

16th) Which RPG do you enjoy using as-is?

That's a tough question, as I tend to make up my own material for almost every system that I play for any significant length of time. But at the moment, I'd have to say Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Most of my homebrewing efforts are currently dedicated to my Pathfinder campaign, so for now, I just use what's in the 5E core rulebooks and the canned adventures that I'm running. That's plenty good enough for my kids as they learn the system and I get more comfortable with running it.

(Of course, anyone who follows my blog knows that I'm interested in trying a Freeport 5E game someday, and that will involve a lot of conversion from previous editions. But for now, my answer stands.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 14

14th) Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Pathfinder and BESM Third Edition.

My current gaming group's game of choice is Pathfinder. I've used that system for my most recent Freeport campaign, and for my current "Time of the Tarrasque" game (which technically has a planned end point around 20th level or so, but it's going to take us a few years of game play to get there, and I have very little planned out between now and then).

I use BESM 3E for the solo Greek myth campaign that I run for my wife. That game is extremely open-ended, though after 10 years of play, I'm actively trying to work out a suitable climactic stopping place for us in the near(ish) future.

D&D 5E will probably end up taking BESM's place as one of my go-to games once I master the system a bit more. I'm currently running published 5E modules for my kids, since Tarrasque takes up so much of my "create new stuff" headspace.