Monday, August 29, 2016

Great Video: "Low Budget" Review of Tunnels and Trolls

Check this cool video out if you are interested in Tunnels and Trolls, and there is a free rulebook available over on Drive Thru RPG here:

And also the current version of the deluxe rulebook (at this time on sale for $20):

And you can get a hard or soft cover here:
This version came about as a Kickstarted project (here), and this is essentially the best and most complete version on the shelf today.

The one thing I love about this video is how he points out Tunnels and Trolls has been developed by the same creative team for over 41 years, and it is the second roleplaying game ever developed. He knows his history, and even though the video is a bit 'low budget' the love and appreciation for the game shows through - and he has great information to share in this review. It is not a slick production, but it is from the heart, and that is what matters more.

More on this game soon, and this has been one we have been playing for a long time - and it is great to see it back.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Great Article: The Death of 'The Sleeper'

Check the above out, it is a great article about the old Everquest game, and what happens when you pull the rug out from under your players - and then put it back, saying 'sorry.' Or not saying sorry, but blaming it on a software bug. Maybe there was a bug.

We will never know, but the story is a gaming legend.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Savage Worlds: World of Warcraft: Part 4

Non-cannon time, so break your lore sticks and let's talk.

The old World of Warcraft d20 game listed Stormwind's population at an incredible 200,000 people. This was later revised to somewhere down to 20,000 people, which for a medieval city is still huge. Medieval London from 1100 to 1300 grew from 15,000 to 80,000 people, so there is a nice real-world reference. Here is a map of 1300s London so you can get an idea of how big of a city you would need to fit 80,000 people:
Map of London, 1300.svg
Source: Wikipedia
I can tell you now that even fitting 20,000 people into the in-game city of Stormwind is going to be a stretch. The place can't even handle a couple hundred players as it is on a weekend night. But seriously, there is something to be said for the original 200,000 number.

Because 200,000 would work.

If you said that "Stormwind was it" and the rest of the lands around it were mostly wild and unsettled (save for a couple dozen miles of surrounding farms thinning out as you go), such a high population would work. The city would be massive and the central castle would likely look something like a spaceship towering above that mass of people, but as the sole population of the world for most of humankind, that number would work.

Take that map of 1300s London and multiply it by three to get an idea of scale. Check the scale of 2,000 feet. I could see a Stormwind of triple London 1300, being that size, with 200,000 people, and the majority of humans on the planet. If the world is dangerous, people would flock together for safety, and we could have a huge scale world of 100 or 200 times and still have the iconic cities spread far apart. Fill the rest in with "wild, dangerous, and unexplored land" and we are back on track.

No new lore needed, just a scale change. A scale change with lots of "unexplored land" is a whole lot easier for lore-obsessed players to swallow than is all these new imaginary places and locations. They only need to agree that the capitals are massive in scale compared to the game, and that is also an easier sell because who doesn't like massive and huge?

So that is the answer. I will go back to the non-cannon mega-population hundreds-of-thousands "race capitals" sort of design, scale up the lands to be epic in size, and fill in the rest with dangerous and wild places. Also, take note of this comparison from the Warcraft movie and the game - these look like cities that could support the 200,000 number, especially Stormwind (compared with ancient London):

Another added bonus is this sort of design creates high drama. Because Stormwind is the capital for all of humanity, if it gets destroyed, that's it, game over for the humans. Same goes for the elves, the orcs, and every other capital. We can still have smaller versions of the non-important places, as I can't see scaling up Booty Bay to be gigantic, but I could probably add a couple rows of buildings behind the docks just for fun and to maintain that sense of scaling.

With one or two easy pills of lore-breaking to swallow, most of the world's the lore is intact, a sense of scale is created, and the design has a built-in high drama.


My Savage Worlds conversion of World of Warcraft is back on track. Next time, powers and classes.

Great Article: Twilight Imperium Review

I love this article, especially the content of the "meet the players" section, and around this quote:
Once upon a time, after our first few games, Jim discovered the hard way that a player’s reputation, once lost, is not easily regained. After reneging on a few treaties and making dodgy promises not to invade planets, he soon realized that no one would trust him in subsequent games and ended up as a miserable pariah, a victim of the metagame.
Do you find a player's reputation and play-style in one game extends to later games? This is a fascinating subject, how a player's psyche not only determines strategy (in all play-thoughs), but also how other players treat him in future play-throughs. There are great descriptions of player types in here, the careful, the min-maxer, the long thinker, the dynamic player, the one-true-way player, and others. It is great stuff, and worth reading the article for.

Check it out, another great article today to ponder and sink your teeth into, especially if you are into game design.

Great Article: D&D 5 vs. Pathfinder

Check this one out, a comparison between D&D 5E and Pathfinder. What I like about this article is it plays to the strengths of each system and doesn't fall into the 'system wars' mentality by picking a winner before the article is written. It is a fair comparison which highlights the strengths of each, and hits upon the great 'why should I play' points of each system.

Good stuff. Worth a read for those looking to get an overview of the differences between the systems.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls: Magic Weapons

Magic weapons in Tunnels and Trolls Deluxe don't typically add more than a couple adds to the weapon, you could have a longsword forged by a master swordsmith and get +2 adds to 5d6. High quality steel would add another +1. Balancing it would add another +1, and forging it in a volcano would add another +1.

5d6 + 5 is what you would end up with should you make a 'great' weapon such as that, about 16% more powerful than a normal longsword, or in D&D terms, on the same power level of a +1 sword. It doesn't go much higher than that, really, you could probably get this up to +10 with a heavier weapon, elven steel, a super-master smith, and all sorts of other incredibly rare materials and forging, which comes out to a +2 weapon in D&D terms of power level.

Consider warriors add +1d6 per level to their combat adds (+4 per level by our own house-rule), and you will quickly find levels are vastly more important than weapon quality.

The 10d6 Longsword? Doesn't Exist

There are no rules (I have found) for artificially amping-up a weapon's dice with extra damage, like a longsword that does 10d6 damage. I am sure possibly weapons like this may exist in modules as one-offs or house-ruled weapons, possibly, but by the base rules the "+damage dice" magic weapons aren't in there.

So let's say "this is cannon" and go with the idea there are no MMO-style 300dps damage artificially elevated to that of a tank gun weapons in this world. You know them, they are the ones you find in MMOs like World of Warcraft where a paper cut  from the epic Thunderfury sword would blow a level one peasant's arm off.


No, you may not clean my sword, and I will be more careful next time I brush by someone with my magic quarterstaff. I will pay to clean up the inn, and I didn't realize there was a crowd there tonight.

But seriously, let's say there are no "juiced" magic weapons in this world, and the great weapons are only a couple adds here and there. Where does that leave us?

The Innate Power of the Warrior

Here's where we go all Conan on everybody. With warriors, it doesn't really matter what weapon they use, you could pick up a spoon and maul a crowd of evil snake cultists with the utensil. A two-handed sword would help, but the spoon will do until I defeat someone with a better weapon.

Or maybe I will stay "metal" and keep using the spoon in spite.

You kick butt with ordinary weapons. You don't really need to be dolled-up with a load of specialized gear, like pretty magic armor, entitlement weapons, and all sorts of gear meant to keep you grinding away for something incrementally better. There is no gear game, and your warrior's power is not directly gear dependent. You need some armor and some weapon, but putting your gear on some progression track that has you going from level 1 gray items to level 105 orange items doesn't happen.

Your warrior's innate power is what makes them kick butt. It is a situation much like the wizard, with a wizard, you may want a wand, but a whole lot of magic gear, mana storing robes, and other magical trinketry and paper-doll items are not needed to make your wizard a butt kicker. Your wizard's innate power makes them who they are.

Rejecting the MMO Item Game

So then, what incentive is there to go out and get treasure? There aren't a plethora of magic items scattered out there in the world, but there is always the lure of wealth and a better life. There isn't a "gear game" so adventuring life in T&T is a bit different. You adventure to increase your own personal power. You get money to live better and maybe fix your gear and sleep in a better bed tonight. It makes me want to play the cash-finding game in T&T a little tighter, since naturally if money is the biggest 'loot game' in town, then referees will want to be careful about handing out piles of coins.

You aren't going out to find green bracers that give you +1 STA and +1 STR, or a ring that increases your fire resistance by 2%. While those are very cool things to find in an MMO, and finding them gives you a certain sort of fun, that's not this game.

In this game, money should be a little tighter and harder to come by. The world should be a little darker. Power is gained from increasing your stats and growing in personal power. You are not going to buy your way to success, or "doll up" with magic items to make up for personal power you don't have. Who you are and how you build yourself up matters more than trinkets and gear.

Itemization: Videogames vs. Pen-and-Paper

I still like the videogame-style item games, like Diablo and other games where finding loot and upgrading is a part of the game. I feel videogames do this better though, as we haven't really found a pen-and-paper game that does itemization as well as MMOs or rogue-like games. In D&D, there are a lot of cool items, but wizards outrank fighters in fun and character power by a long-shot, so the fighter gear game (at least for us) is moot. It's tough to say (because we love D&D), but for us, video games (with balanced classes and gear choices) do itemization better for fantasy gaming.

You a Better Hero Because of You

But having a game without the 'gear game' is interesting, and focusing purely on your stats and having the world limited to normal weapons and armor only is a fascinating take on fantasy gaming. T&T is different in this way, and it keeps to the 'savage barbarian' model of play where the difference between the defeated and the victors comes down to how much of a bad ass you are. There is no magic sword that can make up for a personal power deficit or trinkets to collect because you need the stat bonuses, it is just all you.

Nothing else is between you and being a hero, and you can't buy your way to greater power. What everyone else uses is what you use, and the big difference is you are the hero.

Savage Worlds: World of Warcraft, part 3

I am being vexed in my Savage Worlds: World of Warcraft project by the maps. The maps of the MMO are not realistic at all, since they only cover about a 9 mile by 9 mile area. Both continents. You could see across those if you were high up enough. Here's a cool version of Google maps for the game's world, and it is cool.

So then I wanted to scale the maps and expand them, say by a factor of 100, so we have a 900 mile by 900 mile area, which honestly for a continent is still small (the size of the Western US; from California to the east side of New Mexico, and all the way up to Canada). That size could work, maybe, if the planet was smaller than Earth. Still, it's small if you want Booty Bay to be down by the Equator and the north side of the continent to touch the Arctic Circle. So maybe I need to scale by a factor of 200.

But we have another problem, once I scale this up by a factor of 100 or 200, there is a lot of room to fill. A lot of room. So much so that Elwynn and Stormwind are going to be hundreds of miles apart, when we want them within 10 or 20 miles. Add to that, just having one city and a small town isn't going to cut it for a powerful medieval kingdom, so there HAS to be something else here except Westfall and Redridge.

I know, there needs to be more cities and an expanded map...
...and the lore breaks here.

It was broken when I scaled the map, but it is really broken now. It is the Kingdom of Stormwind, right? Kingdom means "more than a city plus one small village with three buildings" in my book. Even the movie...looks like it takes some liberties.

Maybe I scale by a factor of 20 and give up trying to fill in new locations. Videogames are poor places to base worlds on, for one, because the distances are not realistic and they tend to be simplified "best of" mash ups, like GTA5's version of Los Angeles, Los Santos. Well, actually, GTA5 is huge and well laid out, honestly, and they are really sharp about how they lay things out to make each area appear bigger than it actually is.
Even the Chronicle volume 1 maps have no scale printed on them (my book is still in the mail, so I go by the preview), so this is a tough one. The world looks larger than it is. When I scale it up, I will need to fill things in. Now, if filling things in isn't a problem for me, I will go right ahead and do so.

But will my players agree? If I make two kingdoms of Hawkshire and Silverwind within the "Stormwind sphere" and have them fight over something, that will break lore. Those places don't exist, but if Stormwind was a "real" place and a "real" Kingdom, they should. Just like medieval England is not just London and some land around it. And maybe one or two villages.

If my players are cool with expanding the universe, this will work. If they are strict lore followers, this will not fly at all. Then again, do I even want to play in a universe where everything is so tied to the lore? The lore is cool but very strong, and I feel if using it makes life more difficult, then...why?
Some projects are easy, this one is not. If the big attraction here is WoW, then breaking lore is going to mess things up. But keeping the lore as-is introduces a sort of "videogame sized" world into a reality where it doesn't make much sense. I want there to be more room, more places, and the freedom to expand upon the world other than "game standard" places. If I am going to go and play only in game locations with game-standard content I might as well just play the MMO.

I wonder how the old d20 version of this RPG handled this, I never got into that because most of it is non-cannon now and the books are of lesser value to me.

So I am stuck. I don't want to do a lot of fill-in work (that players won't accept) and I don't want to break lore too much, so I am feeling the "go with what's in game" burn. And instantly my interest is lessened, and this is possibly another casualty of conversion-itis. It's a problem of converting a videogame to a pen-and-paper game - what lore we have is based on the game and that is hard to escape. WoW maybe will just be something that will be difficult to be anything more than just a videogame.

Is the lore even there for a larger, more realistic world?

Maybe Golarion is a better fit for this project. Maybe I can adopt the WoW feeling and make it work in that universe. Some things just may convert easier than others because they are based on something closer to reality. Still, I want this conversion to work. It's a tough thing.

I need to think more about this.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The MMO Magic Item Economy and Mjölnir

The MMO-style magic-item economy has all but ruined fantasy gaming for us. D&D 4 was this high point of this insanity, where if you did not keep up with the natural 'progression' of magic items your character could not fight monsters rated at their level effectively.

Add to the fact random magic items were mostly useless for most builds, which required specific items and combinations to play effectively 'at level.'

It got so bad the game's designers suggested - in the rules - players come up with a list of magic items their characters wanted to find, and the referee should use that to award magic items from.

This was a fantasy game living in a fantasy land of insanity.

In the old days, if you found that +1 magic sword, you were set for life. It hit the check-boxes:
  • Gave you a +1 to-hit and damage, check
  • Could hit 'creatures only hit by silver or magic weapons', check
  • Was cool, check
The invention of the +2 sword started the insanity to +3, +4, the theoretical +5 maximum best sword, and then in the 3.5-era Epic Level Handbook, went all  the way up to +20.

Well, since they have +2 swords, we need +2 armors! And the lists of magic items blew up. The game was never the same, and AD&D made a mess of the magic item charts with percentage charts of incremental and really worthless upgrades, sure a +2 sword was "even better" but it really only gave a 5% to-hit chance bonus over a +1 sword and 12% or-so extra damage given a d8 damage.

Mjölnir is not a +5 Hammer

+2 swords were epic-sounding, but they weren't superhero-level gear like Mjölnir. Even a +5 hammer didn't come close to the Mjölnir we saw in Marvel Super Heroes, and we sat there feeling D&D characters lived in a world with really weak magic weapons that really at most with +5 had a +25% chance to hit and did 50% more damage than a normal melee weapon. Big deal, but that was the best you could do in D&D.

Mjölnir in Marvel Super Heroes could take out a truck or the Hulk, your choice. Or both.

Mjölnir in an MMO is this insanely damaging 300 DPS weapon that still feels like that gray weapon you started the game with because the world scales with you and you will never truly feel epic. You can splat a level-1 with it, but really, every day you spend out there grinding it doesn't really feel epic because the game assumes you need it to keep up with the content. Sounds like D&D 4 to us, and that's what they did with every item in the game, with forced upgrades in every equipment slot. Though in D&D 4, things maxed out to a +6, and it still didn't feel like the Mjölnir we know and love.

You will find a lot of high-level magic weapons in D&D with extra powers, like lightning bolts or other spells because the plus-damage thing really doesn't make them into the weapons we expect them to be on the silver screen.

Fixed Damage Modifiers are King

But there was a reason for that +2 sword after all, despite the minor 5 to 10% upgrade. The fixed damage modifier.

In D&D 3.5 the fighter's multi-attack leveled the playing field, and the concept of multiplying stacks of fixed-damage bonuses across multi-attacks created the MMO "damage per turn" thing we have going on today in Pathfinder and D&D 5 (done in different ways). The base damage die of your weapon in D&D matters a lot less than the amount of fixed +damage modifiers you can get - because those multiply and stack up fast.

I would rather have a +2 dagger that does a d4 than a +1 swortsword that does a d6. The average damage for the dagger is 2.5 + 2 or 5 points of damage, and the sword does 3.5 + 1 or 5 points of damage. Sure I could roll higher with the sword, but that +2 is guaranteed damage every turn, multiplied across multiple attacks. With five attacks, that +2 is 10 guaranteed points of damage versus the "higher damaging" but less enchanted shortsword with 5 points of guaranteed damage - across five attacks.

You see this on five attacks per turn or five attacks across five turns. Guaranteed damage is king.

This adds up when you stack strength-enhancing magic items and high ability scores for greater fixed-damage adders, and all of a sudden you are adding +5 for STR, +3 for a weapon and you have 8 points of guaranteed damage in an attack. Always go for the higher "plus" and the dice is secondary, especially if you consider multiple attacks per turn (or multiple turns of attacks). Eight points of guaranteed damage across five turns or attacks is 40 points of damage. It adds up.

We are back in the Farmville-style world of spreadsheet games and MMO "dps" numbers, and never feeling like we have a Mjölnir and could smack some sense into the Hulk (or a truck) with our weapon. We still have a problem with the D&D and Pathfinder concept of magic weapons and the implementation of them feels more like a numbers game than it does something living up to our idea of epic fantasy.

The Rules Do Not Allow Epic Greatness

Throw Thor in there, and the gamer in me feels like it breaks down and GM-fiat is needed to say, "well, Thor's +5 hammer can bust right through that 10-foot thick castle wall!" And the player with their +4 spear can't even poke through a locked heavy wooden door. If this was a comic book, the player with that +4 spear could hold it in front of them and run straight through several doors leaving a trail of splinters and kindling in their wake.

No, not working. The rules do not allow for what we expect to happen, especially for epic weapons and the superheroes we want to be (and expect the rules to handle).

Low-Powered High Fantasy

Warriors in the D&D games have always felt less than epic to us, like they were the classes meant to play the spreadsheet part of the game with numbers and modifiers.

Or a wizard in D&D. That is where you will get that superhero experience of larger-than-life powers. This has always been a problem for us, and spells feel like their movie counterparts where the weapons and armor of warriors do not.

One exception is Tunnels and Trolls, where the damage from warriors is so high you could say "you do 200 points of damage in this turn with your spear, and since I said each door had 20 hits, you can slice through 10 doors as you move this turn. Enjoy yourself and try not to destroy the furniture." It's one damage roll for the turn, use it any way you want. 

You could do that in D&D too, but the game goes all simulation-ist with object strength and AC values - so pure mayhem in D&D is discouraged under a wet blanket of simulation. If you are fighting a truck, I am going to need rules for trucks now. In T&T, I say the truck has 100 hits, and you flatten it in one blow. Even with a normal hammer because T&T discourages the MMO magic item economy and you fight with mostly normal weapons. So yes, you could be awesome enough in T&T to take a ball-peen hammer and flatten a truck to a pile of crushed debris in one blow.

Or two trucks.

Just don't damage the furniture.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Great Article: Playbook for Pathfinder

Check this out, it is a great article on the new Playbook app for Pathfinder. While I like and use HeroBuilder, this looks like a great (although simplified, iPad, and core book only at the moment) app for creating Pathfinder characters and getting to that all-important record sheet moment. This one looks to be worth checking out, and the article does a great job of laying out the features. Check it out!

Review: Spirit of 77

Here is one we picked up at the Salt Lake Gaming Con, the Spirit of 77 roleplaying game. This looks fun, and the game looks great - it is chock full of art and campy artwork ripped straight form the 1970s. If you have ever dreamed of playing a character ripped straight from the television or silver screen from the 1970s, this is your game.
The white-covered book is the main rulebook, and we picked up the module/expansion book that looks something like an Atari 2600 game box. Both are beautiful books, and they fit the style and tone of the era perfectly. This is also a somewhat campy and humorous game, as the tone is lighthearted and can get quite silly as all the tropes and funny stereotypes of the 1970s come blazing to the tabletop in their campy and full glory.

The production values are very high here, with fake advertisements from TV Guide type magazines, comic books, and other print media of the time inserted into the game in their funkadelic and period perfect style. It looks great, and all this extra fluff sets the mood perfectly. There are some younger players who will probably miss a lot of the humor and point here, as you kinda have to either have lived through this time or be a huge fan of the television and movies to understand the vibe and groove of this era. Or you could watch Tarantino flicks and pick up on all this quick.

The system is a simple 10+ on 2d6 system for full success, 7-9 for partial, and 6 or less for failure. Ability scores are -1 to +3 and directly add to the roll. Each character has a class, such as gang member, private eye, or good old boy (car driver) and each of these classes gives a player a choice of different special abilities and class bonuses. To make each character unique, a "story" is added to each character, and further expands the character's abilities, relationships, and role within the game.

The advantage and disadvantaged roll system is a thing of beauty, and I like it better than D&D 5's two d20 roll system. Here, if you have the advantage, roll 3d6 and drop the lowest. For disadvantage, 3d6 and drop the highest. A bell curve 3d6 roll plus or minus the highest or lowest to create a weighted 2d6 roll? Very nice.

The system works well and is straightforward, which fits the whole vibe of a party game and also a game mechanic that would feel like it comes from the 1970s. It's important because mechanically you don't want something complicated and obscure here, nor do you want something like an attention-hungry d20 system. This is a fast and fun game, and the rules reflect that.

Character Creation

It took a while to figure out character creation, even with  pre-printed roles and stories from the PDF downloads from the game's website. Maybe we are dense squares and nerds from the 1980s, but we found ourselves sorting through sheets, figuring out the difference between roles and stories, and then piecing all the parts together. Maybe it is having the character creation summary on page 65, after a long section of combat, rules, and other sections and we got lost a little in the book.

After we figured one character out though, we got it, and the rest of them went smoothly.

Charts vs. Rules of Thumb

We had an issue with the classes and stories. For our playtest, we did a Scooby-Doo style play through, and spun up the characters one would expect in such a game. We had a sporty type guy, a hippie mechanic with an animal sidekick, a sleuth, and a pretty gal. The rules worked well, but we found the game's in-line charts slowed play up a bit much for our liking. We would either be referencing a player's on-sheet charts, the book's charts, or the player handout charts constantly to make sure we were doing things right (the first time through). I am sure we could get used to this, but coming from games like Savage Worlds where the success mechanic is elegant and built-in to the dicing system, it felt like a bit of a strange choice for us.

Yes, in Savage Worlds, what happens on a raise (greater success) is up to the referee, so I can see how Spirit of 77's charts need to be a bit more explicit in their flavor and "what happens" to better fit the time and period of the game. But in a game like Savage Worlds, if you define the higher levels of success along the funkadelic and campy 1970's flavor, you can get away with not having a chart to determine the results of a roll. In Spirit of 77, a 10+ roll will get you three pieces of information when scoping out a crime scene - the chart says so. In Savage Worlds, a success plus two raises will get you the same thing (or whatever the referee decides), no chart needed, and I just rule that because success gets you a major fact, plus each raise would get you another.

To be fair, there is a "generic rule" of 10+ (3 good things or total success), 7-9 (one good thing and a setback), and 6- (fail) you can apply to any situation, and we found it best to not spend time looking up charts and just use that rule of thumb.

The combat and "basic action" charts you can't really get away from, so I ended up printing out multiple copies for the players (again from the website's PDF downloads) and handing those out to everybody. By the time we were done, each player had four sheets of paper (role, story, and 2 reference sheets) and it felt like a lot of paper sheets per player.

Let the Best Guy Do It!

Another thing we noticed is one of the major problems of class-based systems. Players let "the best at it" do what they do best. The group's sleuth was five times better at searching rooms than any other character in the party, so every other player at the table let that player's character do all the sleuthing. Same with the mechanic fixing things. Same with the tough guy beating things up. Same with the pretty girl talking to people. What each character did best became mostly "all that they did" at the table, and everyone fell into their "best at" roll almost exclusively.

This happens with other games, as the rogue is the "picking locks" guy who has all the fun in stealth mode in our D&D games, but it felt particularly acute here.

We kind of like systems that force people out of their boxes, and also let players try things their characters aren't the best at. Our group's sporty guy should be searching. interacting with NPCs, and even trying mechanical repairs at times. While in this game he could, the character who was the "best at it" was so much better there wasn't really an incentive to try.

Again, in a Savage Worlds game, all of the characters in our Scooby Doo group could have some sleuthing powers, since hey, they are Mystery Incorporated, and this is their life. The best at sleuthing would be a d10 or a d12 at it, and while really good, other characters with d6 or d8 investigative powers could feel like their skills could be worthwhile and add to the fun. Also, if a member of the group with a lowly d4 skill works at it, they could eventually get a d12 skill and shine after a lot of hard work - and be just as good as the team's investigator.

Here, there's little reason to not use the investigator, as all the best information will come from this character. Again, this happens in other games, and so it is really a larger issue for penm-and-paper gaming (which this game highlights).

Great for New Players and Quick Groups

While we had a couple issues with feeling limited by tightly defined classes and "best at" roles, we could see how these features actually would make it easier for new players or groups of strangers to get along and play. When you are with a new group of people or players who aren't familiar with roleplaying, having strongly defined roles makes things easier. If you are the best "tough guy" you are going to shine, feel good about taking on challenges, and other players will look to your character to solve "tough guy" problems. You are guaranteed a starring role when a problem comes up that "tough guys" can solve, and the referee can create "tough guy" challenges just for you, just like he or she can "charming gal" or "investigator" parts of the game. A good referee looks at the roles chosen around the table, and shapes the adventure for those roles so everyone feels their character had a part to play.

In a way, this is why D&D has strong classes as well. It is easier to get into a role, gives a player at a table a narrowly defined but useful job, gives a referee a yardstick role to create challenges from, and streamlines what everyone should be doing. Strong roles are great for new players and groups that are just getting started playing together.

We feel class-based play with strictly-defined roles is a bit too limiting for us. We like designing a character that can do well at the things we choose for them is important, but equally important is an advancement track that allows a player to take a character in any direction. We don't want characters to be stuck on class progression paths, nor feel so locked into a role they can't change and grow into a new role. If our investigator wants to become a fighter pilot, spend those XP and work on those fighter pilot skills for a while. We feel you can't do that in a d20 system, and multiclassing doesn't really work well for this sort of advancement since you are "eating up" your twenty or so levels in a path that feels like a distraction from your favored class and your will be "done" some day (and unable to become the most powerful mage because you took a couple levels of fighter pilot).

In Spirit of 77, there are five levels, and you just get better at what you do. You can swap classes at level five, but lose your original class' moves. You still stick to one role and get other class' powers as an option, which partially solves the issue of branching out, so it is a bit more flexible in that regard.

But Did We Have Fun?

Yes, we did. This is a fun game with a lot of cool style and 1970's vibe, and I would totally run this at a con or social setting with a new group of players. It plays fast, encourages genre play, and it keeps players in that 1970's groove. We had a couple issues with progression and class roles, but those feel like more of how the game is focused for "focused social play" rather than something worth griping about. Would we use this as a long-term system for campaign play? I can't say we would, since the game's "good for fast and loose" play systems do not feel like a good fit for how we like our characters to progress and expand powers and abilities.

Everything ran fast and fun, but our main issue were the constant chart references. I am sure these would become old-hat after a while, but a part of me would love a "universal resolution table" to do away with a lot of these specialized 6-, 7-9 and 10+ charts. While there is a universal rule for 6-, 7-9, and 10+ that handles general rolls, the special moves and their references made the game a little bit heavy for us when we played and then we went with the simplified generic system we interpreted.

Worthy, but not without quirks, but you know what? That describes the 1970's in a way as well. This one is worth picking up just for the source material, inspiration, and "new game" fun with pickup groups. It is a very social and hilarious game with a lot of flavor and style, and also a blast to play.

Versus Other Games?

If it comes down to the question play this genre with any other game, I would prefer this game over more generic systems, even with some of the ease-of-use issues. The flavor and theming is strong, and it gets players in the right mood quickly. The classes and mechanics reinforce the campy and crazy action of the 1970s very well; where I feel a more mainstream game (d20, GURPS, etc) may tempt players back into their comfort zones with those systems to 'play it safe' and 'power game.'

This versus Savage Worlds or FATE? It depends on the players really and if they are fans. I could see those doing this genre well, but not doing as good of a job keeping the players in those classic 1970s roles and zany situations. If you are sitting down with a group the first time and want to play something like this, play this and avoid the distractions of converting both the mechanics and theme. With fans of Savage Worlds or FATE? A tougher sell honestly, but keeping an open mind and experiencing new things are what made this decade so cool, man.

This game puts you in the 1970's mode and keeps you there, so that is a huge plus when playing with others. A lot of games "say" they can simulate an era like this, but when it comes down to it, you are still playing the basic game while playing lip-service to the era and the tropes. With a group of players, it is better to have them focused on era-specific roles and quirks than it is a generic rules set, because it keeps the party and flavor going. For this, specific and narrowly defined rules work, and keep the mood of the game focused on the source material.

Check it out and get your groove on.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Great Article: D&D is Back in the Mainstream

This is a fun one to see, and it goes to say that D&D comes and goes from pop culture like that strange kid in black who plays the Lawful Evil rogue who shows up unexpectedly at a weekly game and you feel his character is totally min-maxed but you let him play anyways because it's all about as many people having fun as possible. And of course, you're a great DM and can handle the challenge of including him in a group that's already on its way to blow out the module anyways.

Toughen things up, add some extra casters to the encounters, and throw in some interesting non-combat challenges to show them min-maxing isn't always a path to victory. Balanced characters find all roads to victory passable, grasshoppers.

And like that, D&D is back, and as the article says, with 30% of the players being female. You know what this means, right? We are well on our way to pop-culture fad and phenomenon status that will burn our in 3 years when the market gets flooded by me-too games. It's all good though, and major props to Wizards for putting out a simpler version of the game that I don't always get to play, but I still appreciate the design and "keeping it simple" and "not breaking my back with books" philosophy of this release. Well done guys, and props and enjoy your success. You earned it.

Good times. Now let's bring back some of those early 80's games as well in this Renaissance and new golden age and let's make it a complete and great time to be playing pen-and-paper games again.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls: Trollworld

Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls includes an amazing atlas of the Trollworld campaign setting. This was (and still is) the home-setting of the game's creators, and it seems all legendary campaign settings in pen-and-paper gaming begin this way. After reading the nearly 100,000 years of history in the atlas and pouring over the maps and details about the cities and other places, I come away feeling I have really misunderstood and underestimated T&T's setting over the years.

I thought mostly T&T's home setting, Trollworld, as referenced in the solo adventures and other sources,was more of a humorous and rather silly place like something pulled out of a Monty Python skit. There were funny-named spells, all sorts of black humor in the traps, and a tendency to wink-wink-nod-nod about the humor in town-names and other NPCs. Even the continents are shaped like fantasy creatures, so how can one take this place seriously? I mean, this place is no Greyhawk or Faerun, right?
I am feeling really humbled right now after reading and understanding what the designers were shooting for here. I really had misunderstood how the dark humor plays into the setting, it is like a world shaped by powerful, malevolent and uncaring beings of pure malice and a lack of caring - the "dragon shaped" main continent was made that way as a "self portrait" of a powerful dragon. While it was still populated.

Imagine that, some dragon comes alone and starts reshaping a continent the size of North America, dragging out a head from the states of Washington and Oregon, dragging a huge swath of California out into the ocean to form claws, pulling Mexico off the bottom border, tucking up the stomach of the Gulf Coast, twisting Florida into a back claw, and dragging all of New England up into a long, twisting tail.

The people and cities? Well, I hope you all take cover while I finish my handiwork. Never mind the earthquakes and ripping off the land apart around you, would you? I might be done the job in a couple hundred years, I am sure you won't mind the short little interruption while I finish my masterpiece.

There, perfect! Now that wasn't so bad, was it? Hello? Hrm, I wonder where they went and why every surviving civilization is so mad at me? No worries, I am a dragon after all.

Trollworld is Black Humor

Black humor permeates this setting from top to bottom, and once you understand this one fact about Trollworld you get everything else. A wizard so powerful he creates a dungeon which is essentially  his personal "MMO" where real people unknowingly enter to fight and die for his amusement? A wizard war with armies, sides, and years of bloodshed caused by the misunderstanding about fork placement at a magic wizard's birthday party centuries ago? Monsters terrorizing towns created by the careless dumping of magical toxic waste from a wizard's alchemy lab? Take any abuse of power from the headlines today, replace "the abuse of power" with "careless and who cares about the little guy" magic, and you are all set to create adventures.

And the little guy, the average person knows nothing about the capricious and deadly causes of the world they live in. The lands are dangerous because they always have been, not because everybody knows about the magical toxic waste dumping. When you find out about these "dark secrets" during your adventures and begin to piece together the insane and sadistic reasons why the world is the way it is, you begin to fear a world that is more chaotic and full of random death than even a Lovecraftian setting.

Little People Don't Matter, and Don't Know Better

This is worse. The powerful beings in control of this world don't care about the little people. And yet they still try and live their lives, build  cities which routinely get burned to the ground, and survive in a world full of madness wracked by forces no one really understands or can control. In a way, it is a world out of a Monty Python skit, but here there is no laugh-track or studio audience. You are literally living in a world being torn apart by forces out of control with no care for those who live in it.

No other setting does this as well, and in fact, the humor plays into the "we are all seriously doomed" sort of feeling here. There are funny things, silly-named spells, and all sorts of intentionally humorous places and people here. Some could be created as a joke by a wizard and then set free upon the world, like a pair of trolls, one short, smart and weak; the other dumb, large, and strong like something out of a Steinbeck novel and out looking for a lost pet rabbit. Once the joke was over, the wizard forgot about them and went on to other pranks and more interesting things. And these two trolls wander the world until their demise, fate, or they find a place of their own.

Or until the adventurers meet them and either help them find the rabbit, or get smashed to a pulp by Lennie the troll. "I'm sorry George."

The Abuse of Power is Funny, and Great Fun Too!

It's funny and pop-culture-tastic, but in another way, it's a sad reflection on the abuse of magical power in this world and what the average person has to deal with. You are constantly a victim of some careless mage's plans, in-jokes, plots, power-mad schemes, or manipulations of the world. Perhaps the White Rabbit from one wizard's version of Wonderland wanders the world as a lone knight, the rest of his version of Wonderland's inhabitants long gone, and he is out to clean the world of all other magically summoned versions of Wonderland that other wizards create for their amusement.

It is madness and I love it. The best part about this whole setup is T&T will actually let your character be one of those mages or powerful forces. It is intentionally overpowered and super-deadly, all the way up the level chart, and the spells at the higher levels can be created by the players. Want a spell that summons an insane version of Wonderland yourself? Spend some time and write it. If your character survives, they too can join the fun.

Now, this is my take on the setting as I read it - other people may play this differently. But from what I see, that humor and wild abuse of magical power makes this world unique, and the humor softens the blow a little bit and plays into the fun. It reminds me a little of the original humor in the Warcraft universe (before the game got all serious and multiplayer), and it has that insane and madcap charm to me.

And all the while, the box of broken toys, insane deathtraps, and crazy schemes keeps living on. Once you understand it, nothing else comes close to the insanity and power-mad nature of this place. A misunderstood, richly detailed, unique, and true classic of a setting indeed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Great Article: The Story of Pathfinder

This one is a bit basic, but it has some interesting historical perspective and comments from the game's designer. Pathfinder is still a cool game, and still our group's preferred edition of "the world's most popular fantasy game" rules set. Even though we wrestle at times with its complexity and size, nothing comes close in terms of options, openness, artistic style, compatibility, and mod-ability.

For the game to have been printed over seven years ago and to keep going strong is no small feat, and it happily keeps moving forward today. I am starting to believe this will keep moving forward, unchanged, for decades to come. A true universal set of fantasy roleplaying rules that stays the same from generation to generation? I sincerely hope so, and that too is no small feat. When you create something great, it lasts.

Monday, August 1, 2016

FATE Accelerated vs. FATE Core, part 1

In this corner we have FATE Accelerated, the stripped down, lean and mean light version of the FATE rules, which we will call FAE. In that corner, we have FATE Core, the little rules book that weighs in at over 300 pages which is way longer than I ever imagined a rules-light game could be, and a book we will call Core. I got both books and I wanted to do a first impressions sort of review as I read both and check them out, so I will be going over what I learn and how things work in this comparison.

Both PDFs are pay-what-you want and free and unrestricted for the initial download, an incredible distribution model and very progressive and thoughtful. I am feeling I will pay something here, this is just too kind and they deserve something for a great game and all this hard work. Honestly, I am not cheap, and we want companies this generous to stick around and put out great stuff in the future.


I bought a special set of FATE Dice and I love these things. They are fun and very collectible, high-impact (I dropped one on a stone floor from 4 feet with no damage or marks after 2 three-foot bounces), and very pretty. I can see myself collecting these just to play around with, and they are a fun part of the game. More are coming in the mail, and I love the ones made by Evil Hat. Something makes me want to invent a game to play these with, or maybe use them for Monopoly or a WW2 wargame like Squad Leader. More dice? Let's do another picture of dice:
You only need four of them as a player or referee. Only four, so a 12-pack will be enough for three people. You roll them all together, plus means +1, minus means -1, and you total the result and add to an Approach (in FAE) or a Skill (in Core), what this game uses as an ability score. 4d3 is a unique mechanic, and it feels novel and unique.

Core Skills vs. FAE Approaches

FAE gets rid of a skill list for a more generic "action based" set of approaches to problems - it doesn't matter how skilled you are at an action, your approach to how you solve a problem is what matters. Core uses a list of 18 task-specific skills, where FAE sticks to 6 non-skill 'problem solving' approaches which any. I can see how those wanting a crunchy, more character-design driven game would be drawn to core, while those wanting a rules-light and more 'let's play a movie or TV show right now' would gravitate towards FAE. Core seems more like the long-term campaign choice, but I want to check out Accelerated to get my feet wet before diving in.


And these are OGL games with a Creative Commons license, and an SRD as well. Wow, they are trying really hard to win me over. Really hard. I feel my defenses breaking already. A sensible, modern, open, and SRD-driven game with the normal OGL/SRD licensing guidelines and rules? Yes, D&D 5 went OGL, but they leave things out, so there is that forking thing going on over there. Here? It's all on the table, start creating your game. Or making a module. Or whatever. Just play by the OGL/SRD rules and you are good to go.

Okay, I am won over now, let's get back into the game.

But see what this does? Being open and flexible about your rules system wins fans. Legend is like this as well, along with a couple other games Mongoose makes. Evil Hat follows suite, and we have another game that will live forever and spawn countless forms, and there are no parts left out. This is the way to publish a game. Worrying about selling physical copies rule books is so year 2000. Make a great game, let people have it without restrictions, and then sell the rulebooks and other add-on items. Rules are cheap and should be free.

And yes, I will keep buying dice, and paying-what-I-want because generous people deserve to stay around and be rewarded for the cool stuff they make.

And I want other companies to follow this model, so I will support it.

Aspects are Where It's At

Aspects are really the core of this game, and while the game seems almost rules-light, don't let this fool you. There is a very deep and meaningful aspect game going on here underneath, and it supports the entire role-playing and task resolution system in the game. This really shouldn't be understated, where in most other RPGs, you get this dry "number vs. number" thing going on, what's your skill and what's the DR of the lock? Roll. Fine. Done, pass or fail.

An aspect is a simple statement of truth about any fact about a character, situation, or scene that can give you a bonus or penalty when invoked or compelled by a fate point. The statement can be anything, but ideally it can be something positive or negative that could apply in multiple ways.

In FATE, it's all about the aspects, baby. I want to stick to FAE for this, since that is how I want to learn the game, so here goes. Character aspects can come into play, like, "I am a master thief of the city of Cairo." Situational aspects can come into play, like, "the room is really noisy and it is hard to concentrate." Consequences (injuries or other temporary conditions) can come into play, such as, "I sprained my wrist" or "my confidence is shaken."

Before we get into the mechanical workings of aspects, the action system of the game turn plays into aspects as well and completely supports them. There is another layer here that is really critical to understand so you won't be playing this as a novice. Action during a turn can be taken to "create an advantage" or create a new, temporary situational aspect. I could plug cotton in my ears to cancel out the noisy room, or take extra time picking the lock. I could also try to use an "overcome" action against the noisy room aspect by trying to quiet everyone down, and if I roll good enough, get a one-time boost that I can use for a limited time (the room quiets down and circles around so they can watch me pick the lock with anticipation).
You can invoke positive aspects (or negative ones against fores) by spending a fate point. You can earn fate points by compelling negative aspects on yourself. The game's entire fate point system revolves around the invoking and compelling of aspects, and fate points are your "story points" which you use to gain benefits and make interesting stuff happen.

In this game, you are constantly creating aspects, invoking them, compelling them on others (and yourself), having the referee invoke them or compel them as NPCs, and keeping the "fate point economy" spending and earning points like poker chips being tossed around the table without abandon. This is not just for dry RPG combat, this is for social scenes, technical scenes, tasks, and any challenge or interaction in the game. You could have a whole social combat scene play out with situational aspects being created by the "create an advantage" action, such as a diplomat questioning the integrity of another diplomat, creating a "suspicion of personal gain" aspect on that person. That aspect could be compelled against that diplomat, or it could be invoked by a character saying "my integrity has not been challenged!" That "suspicion of personal gain" aspect could be dispelled by the "overcome" action with irrefutable proof of honesty and integrity, and if you roll good enough, earn a boost in which to turn the tables on your accuser with a boost, which you could use to inflict a "dishonest accusations and dealings" aspect back on your accuser.

This is not a cut-and-dried "by the numbers" RPG, this is a social experience simulator that can be used in a remarkable number of ways. You could use aspects to perform auto repair, negotiations, cloak and dagger sneaking around a enemy base, roleplaying, exploration of new lands, cutting down a tree, mining a mine, searching ruins, and any other normal and exceptional situation - should you choose to. The aspect and fate point system, combined with the create advantage and overcome actions, create an interactive and social experience out of anything you throw at it.

Aspects can be Special Equipment

Another interesting part of the game is that there are no equipment lists. You are a swordfighter, so you have a sword, often as a part of a character aspect. If you are a sniper, you could create an aspect "my specialized rifle is good at hitting targets at long range" and get a +2 when you invoke this piece of special gear with a fate point when that condition is true. At short ranges, it is like any other gun and can be used normally, but with a fate point and the right situation, that special equipment comes into play.

Again, in many "by the numbers" RPGs, you are forced to sort through long lists of equipment, match a weapon to a style of fighting, and weight positives and negatives of giant spreadsheets of modifiers, damage outputs, and numbers. Here, that isn't how this game is played, and specialized gear is more of a "TV or movie plot device used during a special scene" than something you would geek out about ranges, fps, muzzle energy, and all sorts of other arcane numbers that would bore the audience to tears.

Accelerated vs. Core

This is a tough one, since I want to see Core as AD&D versus FAE's simpler D&D. I don't really see that analogy holding up, since they are both the same game - but different. I want to learn and play Accelerated first and save Core for later. I may stick with Accelerated after I read Core, or incorporate the parts I like from Core. I don't know. I need to read and play some more before I make that decision, and no rush, because I am liking the interactive and social nature of this game.

It is not like Savage Worlds at all, nor Legend, d20, or any other game. Savage Worlds is taking our top spot as our group's "polyhedral game", while Legend is our "percentile realism" game, and our own Second Edition of SBRPG as our favorite "d6 game" (still in development, more soon). All of these are crunchy, by-the-numbers games, with SBRPG 2nd Edition sitting somewhere between storytelling and crunchy.

I can see FATE working its way into our playlist as our "fast and fun" story light game of choice. Why? It is anti-crunch and social. It is interactive and verbal. It is built around storytelling and a shared experience. It has a unique and fun mechanic. The dice are interesting and make us want to play.

A very strong system overall, and I am pleasantly surprised by this one. I had expected something rules-light and not as compelling, something you buy, collect, and never play. I got something which once dug into compels me to play, is full of interesting and social-play ideas, and is tailored to create a unique and fun experience.

A winner? Too early to tell, we need to run through our first session and see.