Thursday, October 16, 2014

Everyone seems to be talking about John Wick these days. If it's not his big blockbuster movie, it's his latest rant on RPGs.(Not the same guy, but it makes for a good joke) And since it is a rant, it's easy to agree with the broad strokes while still finding the devil in his details.

His core premise seems to be that RPGs are designed to tell stories. And while gamers may use that phrase as an excuse to complain about railroading or excessive focus on drama instead of action, I have little problem with it. Because the "story" in an RPG is about what comes out of play rather than necessarily what the Narrator had in mind when they wrote their notes.

But I do find problems with a number of the things he cites to support his point. His first problematic point is that weapon lists are stupid. Going so far as to include a few film clips, he argues that weapons don't matter if the character is bad-ass enough. Therefore, detailed variations between weapons are stupid because there's no way that your stats for a teacup are going to match what we saw Riddick do with it in the movie.

This argument is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, he's comparing films and games. Since the movie is called Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel's character has an infinite amount of plot protection and access to plot devices. The scene was not intended to challenge the character in any way, but simply to give him a chance to show off.

Secondly, he claims that weapon lists do not help you tell stories. I will admit that there's little dramatic flair to poring over lists of numbers, whether or not those numbers are useful depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell. And if you decide to dismiss weapon lists or other details out of hand, you're actually limiting the kinds of stories you can tell.

Old School D&D, for example, is actually very concerned with logistics. I've once heard it said that if any film genre best approximates the D&D experience, it is the heist film. So knowing precisely what you are carrying and its potential usefulness on your current or next venture is very valuable. You can take a heavier weapon or armor down in to the dungeon with you, but there's the chance that it will slow you down and make it easier for monsters to catch you as well as the possibility that you'll be able to carry less treasure back to the surface with you.


I did not include weapon lists in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road because weapons were not a big part of the stories I was trying to tell with the game. But to say that such details are not useful in any story is simply false.

Then he trots out the tired old "D&D is not an RPG" argument. Which is both an easy and a hard case to make. It's an easy case because D&D started out as a miniatures wargame and retains many of those features. But it's also a hard case to make since D&D is pretty much the father of the RPG hobby and industry as a whole.

(I'm feeling a desire to go into depth regarding the differences between "dramatic" roleplaying and "practical" roleplaying, but I think I'll save it for another blog post.)

His comments on game balance take a little parsing, but I am largely in agreement. He makes his initial point here clumsily, claiming that balance between players is important in a board game, and then claims that balance between the players is stupid in an RPG. As he goes on, his point does become clearer and this is the part that I agree with.


I'm not as allergic to the term "game balance" as he is, but I think his opinions about spotlight time are spot on. A properly balanced RPG is one that manages spotlight time effectively, giving each character and player time to shine.


I typically don't go as far as John does on removing mechanics that don't appeal to me. When I play a game, I prefer to get the full experience. Only once a rule has proven itself unworkable do I remove it. If the game has a mechanic I don't like, I will typically not run or play that game.

And I do tend to have a problem with people who remove social mechanics in order to "encourage roleplay." Because that sort of thing just creates roadblocks for players who are not smooth talkers, even if they want their character to be one. Social traits also make for an interesting trap for people who think their roleplay skills are all that.

There's a story out there, from John Wick amusingly enough, regarding the playtests for Legend of the Five Rings. One player had such faith in his roleplaying skills that he built his character for combat and got a few extra points for his combat traits by taking social flaws. The opening scene of the adventure required the characters to make a pitch for why they should represent their Clan on this mission of vital importance. Between a lack of investment in social skills and all of his negative social traits, this player failed to roll well enough and his character was not invited along on the adventure.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

RPGaDay #31 Favourite RPG Of All Time

Dammit! You're making me choose! Again! And again, I'm not gonna!

I have a large degree of respect for D&D. Without it, the RPG hobby and industry would not exist. I've played a good amount of it, both 3.x and Old School versions.

I very much like GURPS. As I've mentioned, it's been a big part of my life for a long time. If a campaign presented itself, I would gladly run it again.

I am quite proud of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. It was my first publication and has been astoundingly well-received by gamers and Oz fans alike. I hope it will not be my last.

I love all the silly little indie games that find one thing to focus on and do that one thing well.

The game I love the most is the one I play with good friends.

That is all.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

RPGaDay #30 Rarest RPG Owned

This would have to be my first printing of the AD&D sourcebook Deities and Demigods. You know, the one with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean pantheons? It turns out that those were still under copyright at the time, so the books had to be recalled and reprinted without the unlicensed material.

You could probably also call Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
pretty rare. Less than 200 copies are currently in print. Less than 500 total sales. Those numbers can certainly grow (and I hope they do), but they're certainly not a sign of taking the RPG industry by storm.

Friday, August 29, 2014

RPGaDay #29 Most Memorable Encounter

This would have to be Tina.

This was the megadungeon game responsible for both Ted and Kyle. Our halfling rogue got zapped with amnesia out of nowhere and in bursts this pixie who claims to be his wife and mother of his children insisting that he defend her from these intruders (presumably, the rest of the party). If it weren't for some clever roleplay, he might have sneak attacked the lot of us.

Tina eventually became one of our points of contact in the dungeon. If we needed info on anything going on in there, we turned to her. It wasn't until a while later that the DM revealed that Tina had started out as a randomly rolled encounter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

RPGaDay #28 Scariest Game You've Played

I've already told my Ravenloft story, and that's as scary as I get. I've never played a deliberate horror game. I don't own Call of Cthulhu, though I do have a good selection of World of Darkness material. Never played it though.

I tried to run a NWOD mortals game, but it didn't go too well. There was a supernatural element to the game, but it never achieved anything like horror.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

RPGaDay #27 Game You'd Like To See A New/Improved Edition Of

Not many of those at the moment. Most games on my shelf are either actively supported, or niche enough that they work well enough for their niche and don't need much revising.

A couple of exceptions do exist however.

Star Trek. I would love to see an actively supported Star Trek RPG. I don't know that I'll get it though. The current film franchise is likely to be the dominant paradigm, and that has me somewhat less enthused.

Palladium. Back in the early 80's Palladium Books was an innovator in RPG design. But then the 90's came along and Palladium developed a mega-hit in their Rifts game. The problem with that is they've been milking that mega-hit pretty much ever since. Their other game lines got revised editions simply to make them more compatible with Rifts.

While the mechanics may have been awesome in the 80's and acceptable in the 90's, they're pretty atrocious by modern standards. While they may have beaten D&D to the punch with ascending Armor Class, there are other AD&D tropes that they have stubbornly adhered to. Like different experience tables for each class, and strict skill progressions. And lets not get into comparisons with non-D&D-based systems.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RPGaDay #26 Coolest Character Sheet

The best character sheet, in my opinion, isn't just one that holds all the information I need about my character. It's one that helps me play the game.

Savage Worlds did something really clever with their character sheet. They put the wound level chart and spell point tracker along the edge of the paper. So instead of marking and erasing stuff that's going to change regularly over the session, you can mark your status by sliding a paperclip down the page.
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