RPGaDay2018 Day 31: Share why you take part in RPGaDay

August is a bit of a dead zone for RPGs in general and the ICE forums in particular. I think there were something like 3 posts on the forums yesterday and they were pretty much ‘me to’ or ‘thankyou’s.

We [Rolemasterblog] are the ICE forums, ugly friend. If you cannot get a date with the ICE forums then people come here instead. So if the ICE forums go down [I really wish I hadn’t made that dating reference now) then our popularity leaps up and like now when no one is posting on the forums then people come here for their daily dose of Rolemaster.

So the prompted 31 posts in 31 days is a great way of giving the RM community something to read and hopefully react to. I know that most of the comments are from the stalwart followers but we had Voriig Kye comment on the post about Land of the Blind with a valuable contribution and a misguided comment from someone blaming me for breaking RMU. I have done many things but that you cannot lay at my door. I rather like RMU, just not the size rules but as with everything I will have a work around but the time I play. (Composite attack charts with all the size results built in go most of the way and dedicated combat tables for +1 and -1 sized weapon will complete the task).

If you read 10 blogs on the same day you would get 10 very different interpretations of each question. RM is by far my favourite fantasy game but I do like to dabble with other game systems some times. If I ran something SciFi right now then it would probably be HARP SF and if I did something modern day then it would be GhostOps. So mentioning other systems seems perfectly reasonable to me. I also think that most GMs would happily transplant rules or mechanics they like from one game system into RM. Why not, rpgs are great for customising and RM is such an easy system to modify.

On that point there was one discussion this month that has my imagination working. You all know that I am not a fan of Spell Law and realms of magic. I had also mentioned that I liked the Champions supers rpg. So there was a discussion about Hero System and Shadow World. So Champions uses points to buy super power type effects. So 5 points would buy you 1d6 of damage but those costs could be modified with advantages and disadvantages so if you were trying to model a fire attack then you could reduce the final costs by taking a disadvantage that it doesn’t work underwater. Champions/Hero System also had three ways of grouping ‘powers’. The first was a multipower where you had a pool of points and then defined slots that utilised that pool in different ways. You paid for the pool and then a smaller cost for each slot. Only one slot could be active at any one time so it was a good way to model one ‘thing’ being used different ways. So if I wanted to model a sword then I could have one slot as a killing attack to represent the edge of the blade, a second slot as a stunning attack to represent using the flat of the blade to subdue and I could have a slot that added to my defence to represent parrying.

The second grouping was called an Elemental control and that allowed you to group closely related (thematically) powers. You paid the full price for the first power and then all the others were at half price. Each could be used simultaneously if you wished but they had to be part of a conceptual whole. So if you had control of gravity, for example, you could bundle the ability to fly (antigravity), telekinesis (manipulation of gravity) and a protective force field (superdense gravity) all into the one elemental control.

There was a third grouping and that was the variable power pool. Here you paid for the pool of points but you could redefine how those points were used and shared between powers on a round by round basis. If I remember correctly there was a skill based roll required to redefine how the points were used. In a supers game for example Batman’s utility belt would be created as a variable power pool which is why it always contained exactly the right thing at the right time.

So if we imported hero system’s point system (say 1 RM Development Point gave 5 hero system character points) you could have each spell list defined as some combination of Multi power, Elemental Control and the 50th level spell would be the Variable Power Pool. So Sudden Light, Shockbolt, Lightning bolt, Corner Lightning and Following Lightning would all be slots in a multi power as they are all discrete. Light, Shade, Darkness etc would all be part of an Elemental Control. You wouldn’t need Light I, Light II etc. as these effects would be controlled by how many powerpoints you used to put into the power.

I could easily see how all the spell lists could be converted to Hero System powers. The advantage would be that all spells would be inherently balanced as they were built from a menu of effects that had already been priced for balance. The second advantage would be that there would be no concept of realms, magic is magic. If your magic only worked when you had an opportunity to pray to your deity then that would be a ‘disadvantage’ and it would make your magic cheaper to buy so you could buy more with your development points.

What is more is that new lists could be build easily as all the components are off the shelf components. Hero System has something called an Energy blast and it doesn’t care if that is fire, radiation, pure magic or lightning. The special effects are then either purely cosmetic or used to choose advantages and disadvantages. So you could use an advantage of a powerboost against metal armours as an advantage and a penalty against organic armours as a disadvantage on a lightning bolt.

For us the special effects would define the critical table. That would help tie the system back into Rolemaster so it still feels like RM and not like Hero System.

The more I think about this the more I think the hero system parts would have to be under the hood and not on display. RM has a bad enough reputation for being rules heavy and the version of Hero System that I have has about 250 pages of powers rules. Imagine adding 250 pages to Spell Law and then having all the lists on top of that! No, I think one could redefine all the lists as Hero System powers and resent them as completed things. What you would really gain is something as flexible as the HARP scalable spells with the flavour of RM lists. Rather than learning 1-10 and then 11-20 you could learn either the elemental control or the multipower or you could choose to put more DPs into either one to make the spells more powerful (effectively the same as granting the I, II, III… lord versions of the same spells). The top slot would then be the variable power pool. 

I think this idea has mileage and I would like to talk to anyone who has blended RM and Hero System in the past. Luckily for me the Hero Games forum looks nice and active. Incidentally I just did a quick search of their forum for rolemaster and it returned 60 results and more for Shadow World. So if I am lucky there could be a solution already out there. I will add this to my todo list!

RPGaDay2018 Day 30: Share something you have learned about playing your character

That they never end up with the personality that I imagined they would have.

I find the very first session with a new character quite hard. I have to sort of grow into them a little. In some ways I am ultra conservative. I always play humans for example and always male. In other ways I am always pushing limits. I like to define my characters fledgling personality by using two seemingly contradictory thoughts and then see how the character rationalises them.

I have seen some people do very similar things but using random personalities, you roll two traits and see what you come up with. That is not what I do. I was more inspired by the insult “Military Intelligence, there’s an oxymoron!”

I know perfectly well that real people can hold completely contrary view points at the same time and have no problem with that. My wife, if you asked her would proclaim herself a socialist, she reads the Guardian and votes for left of centre parties but at the same time as soon as something annoys her her point of view leaps to quite right of centre. I think you could sum her up in “We need to build more social housing but not for people who are not prepared to help themselves.”

So I like to start with two supposedly contradictory  points of view that I have no idea how to rationalise and then let the character evolve. I have had a medic who was surprisingly violent and ended up with a personality that you could describe as “It will be over my dead body that I will let anyone hurt my squad.”

My current PC grew up in abject poverty and is obsessed with earning money, that is his primary motivation in adventuring, but sends everything he earns back to his village because his family is still living in abject poverty. He is a blend of social philanthropist and avarice.

This way requires a lot of effort. You also need to play your character A LOT. I don’t mean frequently but you need to be in the room and engaging with the other characters, the NPCs and the world. It is only by facing challenge after challenge to these conflicting points of view that you get to square the circle or knock of the hard edges (are those metaphors contradictory?).

When you are in that mode of wanting to ‘role play’ your character, not roll play your own personality that you realise how lazy we can be. I have one player who keeps telling the other players how his character appears more educated and sophisticated than his dress and physical appearance implies. He looks like your typical highland warrior or possibly barbarian. The problem is that when he is describing his character’s actions he acts like a barbarian or at least an uneducated thug. There is no hint of this sophisticated and educated man underneath the wode and tartan.

There is a funny digression to this group. A few of the PCs were rolled up in a previous session and then on the day the game was due to start just two PCs need to be created.  So eventually we all settled down and we noticed that a few final details were missing off the characters we had made the previous week. So as we had character law there on the table and it happened to be on the page we rolled random height and weight for the two characters. I cannot remember if it was open ended or just extremely high but anyway I jotted down the 6′ 8″ height on my character record. At the first meeting we are told to describe ourselves. Our barbarian friend goes first and describes himself as massive and imposing and 6′ tall. Then the bard, who is slightly shabby and 6’1″, then the knight who is well dressed and 6’3″ and finally me, dressed like a dishevelled apprentice in ill fitting clothes, but that is because he is 6’8″. They simply do not make normal clothes for people that big. You may notice that the massive and imposing barbarian is actually the smallest member of the party. My character is a Lay Healer (mentalist) and I ended up with an 00 in Presence (bumped up using a background option) and I spent two to choose a skill at magic BGO so got a +25 also to my Presence. So I have a +50 presence bonus. We use dice roll + PR bonus as our Appearance stat so my appearance is well over 100 so and with a PR stat like that it was well worth buying a single rank in a basket of social skills. If anyone is ‘imposing’ it is not the barbarian but the rather charming chap looking down on him!

This PC party is quite nice in that as we are all still 1st level there are no really defined rolls. We were fighting skeletons a lot and weapon selection made a big difference so the knight with his sword technically had the bestt OB but was struggling. I was using my spear but at half skill as a quarterstaff. I also have Adrenal Move Strength (with my PR bonus and my SD is not shabby) I have a fair chance of rolling the skill. The +10 OB from Adr. Strength more than wipes out the penalty for using half skill. The crush criticals are much more effective than the slashes and punctures of the knight. So I have the dubious honour of being at the front of the fighting. The magician looks like a barbarian so we were pushing him to the front which is not where he wanted to be. The Bard had a run of open ended rolls and was beheading skeletons so we wanted him up front as well. The only person who was terribly was the knight!

Now the bard has been throwing some magic around when we are not in combat so he is looking rather mystical and although I am the healer when the party was nearly wiped out it was the knight with his herb lore and small stash of herbs that got people back on their feet. Ironically the last person they healed was me and I was the person with the most herbs, Concussion Ways and plenty of power points, but they were not to know.

So we have a scared barbarian, a magical musician, a healing knight and a heroic lay healer. Confused or what?

I am sure when we start to level up that our roles will become more defined. I already have enough EXP for 2nd level but this GM likes you to take a full break from adventuring and get training before leveling up. The way things are going I will be nearly 3rd by the time we reach anywhere safe. I am not complaining. Lay Healers get their first real quantum leap in power at 4th level. The regeneration spell is so much more efficient than heal 1-10 or 3-30 for example. Broken bones stop fighters dead but at 4th level I get major fracture repair. There are also some more useful open and closed lists.

But anyway I have digressed. So what have I learned playing my character? That is really takes effort and engagement if you want to really get into your character and role play like you mean it!

RPGaDAy2018 Day 29: Share a friendship you have because of RPGs

I suspect that this is going to be a story that is repeated all over the rpg blogosphere today. My school friends and I pretty much have RPGs as the social glue that holds us together. Over the decades each of us has had lifes ups and down. I think we have had nine wives/partners and four divorces, and ten children. Careers have taken off and others have stuggled. One of us was blinded in an accident, another has a daughter with very severe learning disabilities. But despite it all our weekends of gaming have been a space where we could leave that all at the door and kick the crap out of a troll or become a half elven sorceress with a taste for torturing captives.

I do not think for one second that this group would still be meeting and socialising if it were not for rpgs. In fact some of my friends I have ‘blocked’ on Facebook as I am so far away from their views on Brexit, immigration and social welfare that I found some of their posts offensive. The most common disagreements we have had away from the gaming table have been over Brexit and immigration. I am a ‘remainer’ and you will be shocked to learn that I tend not to keep my opinions to myself. I think Brexit is such a bad idea that I am in the process of seeking Swiss nationality so I can retain the right to free movement. Switzerland is not part of the EU but it has signed up to the Schengen agreement allowing EU and Swiss nationals freedom of movement across the entire EU. I have also re-positioned my business so that we have centres in the Republic of Ireland and Germany, inside the EU, as well as the UK. In the new year we will be expanding into Australia as well in an attempt to cushion ourselves from any catastrophic Brexit effects. 

So there you are, ‘share a friendship you have because of RPGs, pretty much all of them!

RPGaDay Day 28: What makes an RPG book special in your eyes?

I have chosen an alternative question today as I had no real answer to the default question and I didn’t want to do that two days running.

It is also relevant to the regulars here on the blog. We are all heavily leaning towards publishing, have published, are waiting to publish or want to publish.

I have two answers to this. First up I like books or more rightly the companions that make you think that the content should have been core right from the start. Books that solve so many problems or things you have had to wing during a session and finally you have an answer for. Players will always try to push the limits and one of the first things they will always want to do is swing two swords not one, pull two pistols not one or fire some machine gun from the hip. They do it in the movies so PCs should be able to do it in game. Books that make those problems go away are the special ones.

Answer two is more about book and page layout. Some books just make using them so incredibly easy. I don’t like the game system FATE but for book design I have seen very few to beat it. I have put an example below. The chapter tab on the side of the page makes thumbing through to find the right chapter easy, the cross references are obvious and and not buried deep in the text. The page contains no art but remains attractive to the eye by breaking up large blocks of text. I have held this book up as an example of great page layout and it does make the book a joy to reference even if the game is dreadful (IMHO).

RPGaDay2018 Day 27: Share a great stream or actual play

I cannot answer this one. I have never watched a stream of a RPG and I have only watched 5 minutes of an actual play on youtube. You know that feeling where you think that is 5 minutes of my life I will never get back.

I kind of feel that watching other people role play should be a way of getting ideas, hints, tips and inspiration but the reality for me it feels like the square peg and round hole. I sat there and thought ‘my group wouldn’t act like that’ or ‘my players wouldn’t go for that’. I think we maybe are too set in our ways.

If I had time to sit there and watch a live steam of other people role playing I would rather spend that time doing something more productive or actually role playing myself.

I suppose the whole issue of streams and actual plays is the same as with TV in general. I don’t watch TV as it feels too passive and the very thought of watching someone else role play but not having a character in the game is simply too passive for me. I would need to be doing something.

So it is a case of haven’t done, don’t want to do, can’t see the point.

Hmm, that is unusually negative for me isn’t it?

RPGaDay2018 Day 26: My gaming ambition for this year

I suppose my ambitions all centre around my wild west game. This is the first game I have paid a professional writer to create content for. I am also looking at buying in professional art and it will be my first kickstarter project.

I spent some time this afternoon auditioning music clips for the promotional videos to go along with it as well. There are two videos I would like, one for the quickstart version and one for the full game.

In many respects it feels like this game has crossed a certain threshold or reached a new level in production quality.

The nice thing is that it hasn’t really cost me that much money and even if the kickstarter fails, when I get around to launching it, it is really of little consequence. Freelance writers are shockingly underpaid as are artists without an established reputation.

One of the cornerstones of a successful kickstarter apparently is to have your game virtually finished before you even start the kickstarter campaign. This means that whatever happens you can deliver a playable game to your supporters. That is where I want to be. The easy bit of writing the core mechanics is done. All the content for setting and background is being professionally written and is being delivered daily.

This week I have been writing the quickstart. The condensed rules is done and I am writing the starting adventure now. I then just need the pre-gen characters to complete the content for that document.

All the playtest documents are written and ready to be released but they need the quickstart to complete the download package.

The last piece I need for the quickstart is a great piece of cover art. I have never commissioned art before so there is a first time for everything!

Off the page there is a forum all ready for any play testers to share their findings and make suggestions.

This is a game where there is significantly more in the ticked off list than the to do list. It has also been a really fun learning experience.

So to put it neatly my ambition for the coming year is to successfully launch my Wild West role playing game.

RPGaDay2018 Day 25: Name a game that had an impact on your in the last year

For me the answer has to be Ghost Ops. The reason is that up until that point I had always thought of these FUDGE and FATE sorts of games as flesh creepily ill defined. Do you know that feeling when someone has taken political correctness too far and won’t let you use the phrase Brainstorm in case you offend someone with epilepsy and wants you to use Thought Shower instead.

I have yet to meet anyone with epilepsy who found Brainstorm offensive but plenty who found the idea that they would be offended offensive.

Ghost Ops changed that as it has a really tightly defined setting, really solid character creation with loads of options but without complexity. It was skills based and you could customise your characters to your liking. It really changed my who perception of FUDGE so much so that I periodically check RPGnow looking for a decent fantasy FUDGE game to download. I have looked at a couple so far an not found exactly what I am looking for. There is always the option of configuring one myself and that is an idea I have on a back burner.

So although I really like FUDGE it is the Ghost Ops game in particular that I credit with the being the game that really made the impact. Ghost Ops is now my system of choice for modern day games.

Here is something else that has made the game stand out in my mind. When I first looked at Ghost Ops, I only had access to the free quickstart rules. The publisher contacted me after my first blog post about the game. They not only answered the questions I had about the game they also sent me the (not free) extended quickstart as that edition explained some of the things I was struggling to grasp from the quickstart rules. The failing being my lack of experience with FUDGE. Furthermore that contacted me again later after I had told them I was going to play through the sample adventure to see how I got on and then most recently they sent me the full game upon its release. They didn’t need to do that, they didn’t need to invest that much time and effort in me. After all I hadn’t spent a single dime on their game, I had just downloaded the free version.

Contrast this with ICE this week…

I made the suggestion of using yesterday’s RPGaDay post to put Rolemaster into the spotlight a bit. I saw that Nicholas was on the boards shortly after I posted that but it got no response. I followed up by pointing them to a blog where I had done what I suggested and promoted RM as a game deserving more recognition and I got a positive response from the blogger who said they would have to check it out again sometime. I went back to the ICE forums and suggested that they send the blogger a complimentary copy of the RMFRP book. If the guy is prepared to take a fresh look then for god sake make it easy for them, earn a bit of goodwill and maybe get a bit of free publicity out of it. I think someone, maybe Brian pointed out that the ICE forums are on a bit of autopilot right now. It certainly seems that there is noone at the helm that is for sure. Obviously I got no response to my suggestion and an opportunity to promote RM is lost.

OK, so this opportunity may appear small, but it was one person reaching out to one blogger and getting one positive response. In marketing that is a 100% success rate.

ICE could have used RPGaDay on several days to raise the profile of RM.

Day 3: What gives a game staying power? Well RM has been around for 4 decades I am pretty sure you could have used that to comment on all these blogs taking part.

Day 16: Describe your plans for your next game? Well ICE’s next game is RMU, or even why not suggest to bloggers that there next game becomes a RMU playtest? You could easily gather all the JDale changes into a single PDF (I have done this myself for my RMU game) and send it and the Beta2 pdfs to any bloggers that respond.

Day 21: What dice mechanic, they could be commenting and describing the Open Ended d100 roll or the 66 critical. These both put the RM name and brand in front of people.

Day 23: What game do you hope to play again? Pose the question when was the last time they had played Rolemaster? You may get responses about rulesmaster/chartmaster but it is easy to compare RM to PF and RM is tiny by comparison.

Including day 24 there were five days in which either one or many RM fans could have pushed out the ‘give RM a fresh look’ message. It is just a pity that no one took the opportunity. The contrast of course is that Feral Games had already won the goodwill of this blogger and gets a mention with out having to do anything.

RPGaDay2018 Day 24: Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

There only can be one answer to this and it is of course Rolemaster. The great injustice is of course the name calling, chartmaster, rulemaster and so on. The total failure of the greater RPG community to differentiate between all the optional rules that are available and the actual rules one needs to play.

And lets face it, compared to Pathfinder Rolemaster is positively lightweight. 

Rolemaster always said it considered itself an ‘advanced’ system. You shouldn’t grab the Advanced books if you want something simple. I know I did but I was hooked on RM and then wanted something simple. It is just a testament to the adaptability of Rolemaster that actually I could carve out my simplified, rules light Rolemaster and have it work seamlessly with all the standard monster stats and the few RM native adventures I have.

Customisation does not have to mean complexity. The core RM structure is so robust that you can hack it any way you want and it remains recognisably Rolemaster.

What Rolemaster needs is for the community to honestly hold up Pathfinder or D&D (in any of its recent incarnations) in one hand and Rolemaster in the other give them a fair comparison. Drop the prejudices formed 40 years ago and look with fresh and more mature eyes.

Rolemaster is not FATE and it never will be. If you lean that way then RM is not for you but RM is, in my opinion, more robust than D&D 5e and more than capable of  being tailored to your style of play whatever that style of play is. What ever you want to do with it, there will be an option for it. Just pick the options that you need and no more.

RPGaDay2018 Day22: Which Non-Dice System Appeals To You?

So non-dice systems.

For me the greatest non-dice random number generator of all time has to be the basic pack of playing cards. These are incredibly flexible from an RPG perspective. If you ditch the kings for example you have in your hand fore distinct d12s.

If you use the just the number cards then you have 4d10 but there is so much more you can do with the deck. You can assign meaning the the suits with the red being relating to magic, Diamonds to Essence and Hearts to Channeling, you can make Clubs strength based and Spades Quickness or Agility.

Then of course there is the classic Deck of Many Things, a real pack of cards is the perfect prop for that magic item.

There are some games that eschew dice in favour of cards as a core mechanic. Ken Wickham has his ABS12 game, in fact he has over 50 supplements he had released now and they nearly all work using 1d12 or 2d12 or with a deck of cards without the kings.

My wild west game “Devil’s Staircase Wild West Role Playing” is the first of a series of games that uses no dice at all. You are dealt a hand of cards and you pretty much play your card and add your skill to the face value. The intention is to create that poker game feel that sits quite well the Old West setting. The deck of cards is so central to the game engine that the system’s name is a reference to the cards. The devil’s staircase is a slang name for a fanned deck of cards and an allusion to playing cards being a route to vice and degradation.

In the Devil’s Staircase system the Joker plays an active role and is the games equivalent to open ended roll on the attack or the 66 on our critical tables.

The d100 may be the most granular dice for regular play but the deck of cards with 13 faces, two colours and four suits plus two jokers packs a lot of options into a very common household object.

And finally of course if your character gets killed at the start of the big fight you can still build a house out of the cards or play solitaire, that is easier than trying to play Yahtzee with d10s.

RPGaDay2018 Day 21: What Dice Mechanic Appeals To You?

So I should probably have discussed the d100 l talked about yesterday today. So you know that I like the open ended roll system so I am going to pick something different today.

I am going to the Solo rules yes/no system.

This is mechanic has two elements, the dice roll and the likelihood factor.

So we have a very simple scale from “No And” which means that what you hoped for isn’t true and in fact it is even worse for you to “Yes And” which means what you hoped for is true and there is even better news. You must all know this by now as I have discussed it many times before.

The element that stops this dice roll being completely random is how likely you think something is going to be. The more likely you think it is the bigger the bonus you add to the dice roll, the less likely then the bigger the penalty. The only limitation is that the extremes of the bonus or penalty never completely eliminate the possibility of the opposite result. Nothing is ever a guaranteed yes or guaranteed no although it can be an extremely unlikely.

So with that simple specification this dice mechanic is completely dice independent. Anything that gives a range of high to low will work.

For the Game Designer the same mechanic gives a lot of choice in granularity. I have seen yes to no scales include ‘Maybe, If’, ‘Maybe, But’, ‘No and…’, ‘No but…’, ‘Yes and’ and ‘Yes but’ in addition to simple yes/no answers.

These solo systems can just as easily be used in a random adventure way with a real GM letting the dice control the adventure and interpreting the results in an improv sort of way as they can be in a true solo game. The secret is, as with all improv and solo play, to take the result and move the story forward.

It is that last bit of ‘moving the story forward’ that makes this the greatest dice mechanic of all. Using just this mechanic one could create an entire world and run an entire campaign with no prep and not knowing what the central plot is.

You could start with world building questions like “Is this a fantasy setting?” then get your answer, then “Is there magic?” get your answer. If the first answer was a No you have options for modern day or scifi. You could get really strange combinations like a modern day setting but in answer to ‘is there magic?’ you get ‘Maybe, if…’ as and answer. What does that inspire in you as GM?

Regarding prep, you just don’t need it as long as you can pull in stock monsters and NPCs. It is much more important to keep a record of loose threads. Imagine a player says “Is the innkeeper pleased to see us?” and the answer comes up ‘No’, why is that? This dice mechanic is literally driving better role playing and in that example better NPCs right down to the ‘little people’, the innkeepers, shop owners and everyone and anyone the players notice. Why isn’t the innkeeper pleased to see the player characters? Is he scared, angry? what is the next follow up question? eventually nearly every one of these becomes an adventure hook if the characters focus their attention on it but it is all driven by the interaction of the players and the same simple dice mechanic.

So my answer is the basic solo yes/no engine.