Three stories in a day

Yesterday was the culmination of three storylines in three formats.

The first was the end of KOTOR, Knights of the Old Republic. Despite a few intention/controls issues, it really captured the feel of a good roleplaying campaign. It was the greatest investment of time, and payed off for it.

I finished Prodigy last night. It’s the second book in a YA series; it did a nice job of deepening the world and revealing more complexity. It was strong enough that I decided to get the other two books in the world, but I suspect that details will quickly fade.

The third thing I finished was The Customer is Always Wrong, a graphic novel. It read very quickly and felt near autobiographical. It was a surprising world, despite being so close to me in time and location… class, culture, and a decade made a big difference.

All three were great. I was particularly surprised at how odd it felt to complete three “storylines” in unrelated worlds and presentation styles. It certainly was indulgent–and felt so!

Knights of the Old Republic

I completed Knights of the Old Republic at just under 50 hours of straightline story progression–so, probably 60-70 hours of game play. It was a very well written story, with interesting tricks to keep the feel of a wide open universe, while bottle necking you onto rails for a well scripted story experience at times.

Since the game is more than 15 years old, I won’t worry about spoilers much, though I’m not going to for for a detailed blow by blow description of all the plot point either.

It kicks off with some cut scenes, then dumps you on Taris, a big city built over an undercity. You have a quest–to find the other republic soldiers from your downed ship’s escape pods–but there’s a long period of acclimation, exploring, and getting used to the controls and interfaces. They’re pretty good about giving most generic people a generic title and a line or two of dialog, but giving detailed people a small dialog tree that helps you figure out your character.

There’s some running around and interfering with people’s lives, taking on small missions, etc., but you soon note that access to the undercity requires a passcard from the occupation troops. So, while you can wander around, if you want to advance, you need to pass through a specific plot element–but you need to cross paths with people who can help you make it happen, encouraging that exploration. Once through, you can pop back and forth between the city and the undercity, but the same format is followed–you can wander around the atrium to undercity, but to go further you need to pass through a funnel of talking to the people and helping them solve their zombie infestation. Then another opening up of options and exploring, dungeon style, and all the exploration and interaction you like, before stumbling on Bastilla and getting back on tighter rails.

When you flee Taris, you have a single destination, Dantooine. There, it begins with storyline heavy padawan training, but then opens the doors to range widely across the surface, exploring and getting into interesting trouble, finding new companions, and the like. It’s interesting, because it feels like you can miss so much more–this is from the era before they put an ! over the head of important people.

Eventually, though, you impress them enough to complete your training. From there, you have a choice of 4 worlds that you can tackle in almost any order–though there’s some guidance about leaving the enemy training center until last. Each world again has a mix of things going on, poised, waiting for you to break the status quo. They contribute to each other, and people on one world will refer generally to the overall actions you had on another world–but very generally, since it’s just what the news would cover.

After completing the four world quests, you’re shoved toward the finale… but they again get tricky and require a quest interacting with various planetary cultures before you can fix your ship and get on to the big space station. That’s a huge battle over many levels–very rewarding, though occasionally frustrating and it required more backtracking and loading from saves than most.

There were technical glitches at times, trying to run these old elements. Dantooine was terrible until I read some advice to set grass to off… and suddenly, it was much less choppy and frustrating. Similarly, turret actions were exciting, but going through three cut scenes before refighting a battle was quite frustrating.

There are excellent twists with your past surfacing (and a good reason for the blank slate amnesia), and your relationship with Bastilla and Carth holds up throughout. While you collect companions and have a chance to learn more about their pasts, many of them felt gamey–you chat with them, they relate something, then the conversation shuts down until you return to the ship and strike up the conversation, where they relate another nugget.

Despite that complaint, it was a good way to space out the discoveries and prevent you from getting overwhelmed. Fortunately, a couple of your companions don’t have extensive backstories to relate–but there are plenty who do. And, honestly, I liked their stories too.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story and most of the game play. It was really well done.

RPG-a-Day, Week 3, Days 15-21

15. Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?
I used to be a huge system tinkerer. I loved looking at games, figuring out which system I could steal from game A and plug into B. In high school, I clipped out Stormbringer’s skills, and brought them into D&D. It mostly killed any reason to be a thief… but also gave people not laughable chances of success at skills, unlike the poor thief.

Over the next 15 years, I enjoyed creating game systems, which lead me to the Forge, which taught me how narrow my experience in gaming was. While I still tinkered and created a few systems for home use, I mostly turned into a game consumer–shopping for indie games and their intriguing systems.

Jennifer brought TV back into my life, greatly reducing the time that I used to spend in the lonely fun of scenario and game design. Game design proved similar to my novel writing ambitions… I realized that with my limited free time, I’d rather read books and play games that others had sweated over, or spend my time creating a great scenario for my group, instead of a game for the world.

16. Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
This is kind of the flip to #15. At the moment, I’m not much of an active game modifier—partially because I want to try out the game as designed before I begin twisting dials. Though… I really can’t resist, thinking further. Even Diaspora was drifted in a Fate Core +” the designers talk about it this way these days” direction.

PTA is great, particularly with the three-flip tension build and clear new examples. Similarly, Psi*Run is great right out of the box—while there’s some meeting of the minds components (scope of powers, etc.), it works perfectly as written.

An easy answer is D&D 5e. I run mostly AL content, so consistency with other tables is a big deal—and I’m happy to not adjust things too much for my table in specific. If you make a bunch of stompy people—great! You crush the foes without breaking a sweat and get to feel accomplished. If you talk your way out of the fights? Great, we can get to the next encounter instead. Trusting the system and running RAW seems to solve so much.

17. Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
This is a question with a dozen answers, depending on definitions of “owned” like do I only count “intentional buys” or does “picked up for inspiration”, and “it was on sale, so I thought ‘what the heck’ and picked it up just in case” count? (Or, worse… all the games that are hard drive clutter but never even looked at!) Similarly, there are too many games that got barely-tried… like, we made characters, but lost interest before the game started.

So, cutting an arbitrary swath, I’ll go with two. The first is Dust Devils; I picked it up relatively early in my hanging around the fringes of the forge. It sounded interesting, but I was in the middle of two long term games, so never made a serious pitch to play it. Similarly, while I may have borrowed it once for something, I’ve never really run or played The Questing Beast. It’s still on my want to play list, but never comes to mind. Maybe I’ll drag it along to an upcoming RPG meetup… or even Strategicon, for use in Games on Demand. Hmm…

18. Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
19. Which RPG features the best writing?
20. What is the best source for out of print RPGs?
21. What RPG does the most with the least words?

RPG-a-Day, Week 2, Days 8-14

So, between travel, sickness, and extra work, I didn’t follow along in real time. I don’t actually have a lot of good answers though… so I’ll write down the questions and see if the answers come. Otherwise, blanks may persist.

8. What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2-hours or less?
This one’s tricky; I don’t know that I have a good game at hand. Honestly, under 2-hours is a great length for so many board games that I’d lean that way. It’d also work great for creating a good PBeM post–as a player, at least!

9. What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions? Each of Bryan’s Star Wars Saga games worked well at this length, though the lower level game was slightly better from a game structure POV. I’d enjoy trying out a 9 session season of Primetime Adventures; I’ve only played 5 session seasons, and never 2 successive seasons (which would be its own perfect 10 session game).

10. Where do you go for RPG reviews?
Google often takes me to RPG.net, though less than it used to. I loved Shannon Appelcline’s reviews.

11. Which dead game would you like to see reborn?
There are a lot of 80s games that I loved, but not their system. If we get to assume significant modernization, Mechwarrior would be great. (Though I don’t know how you solve the fact that most of the combat fun occurs in a related system–Battletech, rather than Mechwarrior. I was vaguely interested in Mechaton back in the day, largely because the two halves, pilots and mechs, seemed more cohesive. And it wasn’t Rifts, which had its own way of merging the two…)

12. Which RPG has the best interior art?
You know how bad I said I felt last week about cover art? I pay even less attention to interior art. I mean, not in the moment–I do notice it when I first read the book, and it can be good for illustrating the world and setting. And I’m a sucker for maps. But art usually feels like it’s in the way when I’m looking up a rule, or flipping through character creation–I can’t really picture interior art when thinking about the games on my shelf.

13. Describe a game experience that changed how you play.
Nothing strong (with the exception of the answer to #7) comes to mind, though lots of little examples crop up. The disastrous Amber game where Pat and I made characters who got assigned a mission, got trounced by Shadow opposition, had to run home and cry for help (particularly in the form of a GMPC…) multiple times… that was bad. Ender Peskins, on the other hand, was a great example of how a “zany” character could work, instead of just being a showboating annoyance. Or Dad’s session of running a Xanth RPG off the cuff for my friends and I in high school… where the numbers faded to the background, until a cry of “you’re just a storyteller” burbled up from Scott Miller. (Such a cutting insult… or not.)

14. Which RPG do you prefer for open ended campaign play?
I don’t think I’ve really played in an open ended campaign in a long while–at least, not a campaign that really stands out as qualitatively different than a 10 session campaign.

Playing, long campaigns have almost always been D&D. It does a good job of having enough lures to keep it interesting–or to keep me grasping for power–as we level up. Dad’s Dragon’s Talons campaign to level 15 was one of the longest games I’ve played. As ever, the system got creaky as we got into double digits–but there was enough cool stuff to lust after that it didn’t feel like it was level 3 with bigger numbers. (Of course, his efforts in making the world feel detailed and rewarding deeper engagement helped a lot with that too.)

As a GM, I loved the Storyteller system, particularly Mage, for open ended play. It didn’t bog down quite as quickly as D&D (for prep, etc.) These days, though, I kind of crave defined endings and the idea of a character seeing a story through. I suppose, given the challenges of coordinating adult schedules, it comes down to not believing that long consistent games are really an option. Particularly not with the lesser prep that I strongly prefer…

RPG-a-Day, Week 1, Days 5-7

5. Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
Man, I pay so little attention to art, I’m a terrible person to ask. Mouseguard is pretty good, with its putting warrior mice on the box cover. Super hero games often do well too, when they show an array of heroes that you can create. (I’m thinking of the cover to Infinite Heroes, mostly.)


Though, looking at that, an actual battle would probably be truer to the game. 5e did a good job with fantasy combat on the covers, which is truth in advertising.

6. You can game every day for a week. Describe what you do.
I was contemplating exactly this situation when my wife scheduled a solo trip home. I was going to have 2 weeks of evenings. My first thought was to schedule a 4-6 episode game and meet every other day or so with like-minded people eager to get in a game before the school year began (etc.)

Three games had been on my mind prior to thinking about filling the time, so the game debates followed along directly.

Option 1 was Wrath of the Autarch. I really liked the idea of well tuned Fate based game, one that wouldn’t dissolve into a pile of invocations and victory without tension. I also really liked the broad theme (a fantasy kingdom simulator, with an empire nearby distracted to start, but once they get their act together…)

The second option was Blue Rose, maybe in a West March style game. I’d enjoyed reading about Aldis and its history, and the sense of Valedemar with the serial numbers filed off was strong enough that my bedtime reading immediately pivoted to an overdue reread.

But the system is new to me–heck, it’s new altogether, so there’s no backlog of easy stolen scenarios and materials. It’s also a more directed setting–you’re agents of the crown–so “like West March” wouldn’t really be a static map that anyone who showed up could explore. It’d be more AL/PFS style “whoever shows up is on the mission”… actually, it’d be VERY like that, basically a serialized campaign. Which would be an immense amount of prep and adjustment; packing it into a week would mean that I’d be devoted to it totally [something like wake up & begin prep, guests come over after work, we eat dinner then adventure for the evening]. Hmm… that’d be awesome, but an immense amount of work, particularly given the traditional GM/player division in workload.

As much as I love facilitating a good game, I don’t know if a week of game-work would actually be a vacation for me.

The third option was Apocalypse World: 2e. I have a setting in mind, daydreamed a bit, but without character’s to respond to, that’s about the end of the prep. Still, presuming an excited group, I could definitely see getting together each night and seeing how they change the world. Hopefully the prep burden would be much less than the Blue Rose idea above, but I suspect that nightly games would shortchange my subconsciousness’s ability to weave coherence out of apparently the “random” action of the heroes. Fronts would likely be more direct, instead of weird and inspired, on that quick a time table.

7. What was your most impactful RPG session?
There are a number of them; for me as a GM, it was probably the feedback to the first session I ran for group of players I met in college. (Mike, Pat, and Rob.) For our rotating GMs D&D game, I’d created a bog-standard D&D adventure hook. As players, they gamely accepted it, and we had a pretty straight-forward adventure. It was also obvious that they were going on the adventure because it’s what was on offer–but that it didn’t fit their characters’ motivations half as well as the quests and experiences to date. That was a lightbulb moment… what, you have to think about the characters and WHY they’d risk life and limb?

An excellent teaching moment, particularly as they didn’t shut down the game to shit on my failure to engage their characters.

RPGaDay 2017, Questions 1-4

4. Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?
I don’t track accurately, but… I think it’s the five or six sessions of Diaspora that I’ve run, despite scheduling difficulties. Actually, strike that—I’ve been running Hoard of the Dragon Queen weekly for the last couple of months for encounters—that must have leapt to first place, particularly when you add in other “pressed into service” sessions. Mouseguard was the game that I got to play a PC in the most over last year. Last August I was finishing up a great Dogs in the Vineyard game.

3. Where do you find out about new RPGs?
Kickstarter’s “a friend of yours backed” is surprisingly influential—it’s often enough to get me to glance at something. Similarly, the kickstarter newsletter is persuasive. Beyond that, it’s people in the game store talking about things that excite them, or my rare forays onto G+.

2. What is an RPG you would like to see published?
I’m not following much in development, and am not getting many games to the table right now. My backlog of want to play/run is getting pretty extensive…

1. What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
Fall of Magic was right up my alley; I’d love to get in another few sessions. Similarly, Masks and Epyllion were both great games as one shots, with a clear vision of what additional goodness would come from deeper play.

#RPGaday #RPGaDay2017

Apocalypse World: Inspiration

Last night and this morning, I was seized by a setting for AW, a setting that excites me. It’s a very specific vision at its core, but with lots of easy messing.

The core is the Central Valley, post disaster. Like normal AW, we’ll play to discover what happened, etc. But some elements will be stable, part of the pitch.

The core idea is that it’s our topography–though minus today’s functioning dams, so we get back Tulare lake, etc. Lots of marshy areas return, but the lack of groundwater (due to current and anticipated pumping) remains, so everyone’s dependent on catchments.

The weather’s like today but worse. Winter brings back dense Tule fog everywhere, with a side of ashy grit. Spring and fall are each a seized month of bliss, before temperatures head over 100 for months. (Basically, today + humidity from the surface water, without a/c, with some climate change to add 5-10 degrees.)

Play will focus on the little towns; Fresno/Clovis and Bakersfield are gone and barren, irradiated. Hell, maybe every city with a population of 20,000+ on this list is gone–burned in the troubles. Assume that everything built post 1970s won’t work. In AW, it was built to fall apart, like fireplaces as decoration rather than useful heat sources.

A Meet Missed

Stannis Stadium is an immense, red marble Coliseum, packed with roaring crowds. Overhead, immense 40′ high holograms replicate the gladiatorial duel going on below. The 1st Hounds squad anchors their line in the marsh, probing the advancing 3rd Light Horse…

In a luxury box above, we see Arcon 005, Jack Turner, and Leon Iococa enjoying the spacious box… but their attention wanders frequently from the action.

Leon spends a lot of time studying cameras that he placed along their entry route, keeping an eye out for disaster. Similarly, Arc stands outside the door to the box, on alert for interruption. Only Jack is in the games’ spirit; he places small bets while waiting for “Mr Johnson” to arrive.

He’s late; several matches pass uneventfully. Animals from Mumun are savaging Tacituar, when the situation changes. Leon and Arc’s preparation is for good cause; at the stair base, several members of the Praetorian Guard gather and move in a coordinated group towards the stairs leading to the team’s luxury box.

Fortunately, Jack switched the electronic signature of their luxury box with the adjacent box. Arc ducked in, stepping behind the door in the box’s bathroom doorway, so his presence outside wouldn’t give away their location.

The guard stormed up the stairs, peeling off guards to block the business level intersection, while the remaining guards continued up the stairs. Confused by the altered electronic signatures, the guard struck a more respectful pose and knocked on the adjacent luxury suite. While the Praetorian Guard spoke with the VP next door, Jack identified the service trapdoor in the floor. Leon placed a camera in the box and they fled down the maintenance ladder.

It wasn’t many rungs down the ladder before Leon heard the click of the door override through the camera relay, and watched the guards spread through the chamber, seeking the fleeing team. Eventually Leon spoke through the camera relay, asking them what was going on. They demanded to know where the senator was–they knew that whoever this was had snatched him, or was part of the distraction that led him to elude his guards. Since they’d done no such thing, the team decided to put some space between them and the pursuing Praetorians…

Arc’s trade-craft got him through the perimeter security without breaking a sweat. Leon and Jack, however, carefully worked their way through the crushing parts of the crowd, exploiting every advantage to remain unseen.

The team gathered back together in the preset subway station. Leon relayed the story of how an “Irene” had come to the office two weeks ago with “an invitation from her boss” and passed tickets to a box at today’s Gladiatorial Bouts. Obviously things hadn’t gone to plan… or it was a setup.

Jack commed Lux and had him pass along a message to the Praetorian Guard who had stormed the box where their aborted meet had taken place. They passed along Irene’s photo (from her ticket drop) and had Lux run down her home address. Leon rented a ground car that Arc drove toward her apartment, where they set up surveillance.

Sometime later, a pair of Praetorian Guards showed up to investigate Irene’s. Leon called Irene’s phone, then a second time when she didn’t answer the first time. She answered… and Leon let her know that he knew the guards were present, that they were watching. She put him on speaker, where Leon explained that they’d gone to the meet that Irene had set–and that the team had no idea who she’d represented until the guards showed up. Despite some reserve on the guards’ part, Leon pointing out that they had no need to expose themselves with the call was persuasive.

The team watched them lead Irene away for further investigation and gathered to plot their next step. Jack started calling his network of ex-military contacts; after a few “heard nothing” calls, he got through to Cosma. She’d heard some things he might be interested in…

They set a meet for an hour, then drove to arrive 45 minutes early. Leon dropped off Arc and Jack, then parked the car in a garage a few blocks away, ready to respond if called. Arc took a seat at a separate shadowed table and worked his way through a club sandwich methodically, while Jack fiddled with the camera he’d placed in the hall, keeping an eye out for Cosma.

Her information was pricier than expected, but she had a time and place for them to investigate. In the background, Lux sorted through camera feeds, finally catching a pair of men approaching… someone, probably the senator, and firing a concealed dart into the senator’s back. He stiffened; they walked him to a nearby alley where a distorted blue flash-perhaps of a taser-could just be made out.