Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Fantasy Flight's RPGs are now Edge Studio's

So I see Edge Studio (the new home of Fantasy Flight Games' RPGs) has their store up at DriveThruRPG:

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/17946/EDGE-Studio

Looks like every game except the Star Wars RPG is up for digital downloads and that is a good thing. It also looks like they have a community-content program up for Genesys with a foundry program:

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/cc/27/genesys-foundry

The program includes style guides, templates, and a 50-50 revenue split with EDGE Studio, plus retaining rights to your original IP (like the unique setting, characters, story, etc). I see that as fair given they need to make money in order to keep supporting the game with books and dice, plus the acquisition costs for the game. If you want 100% of revenue for your game, go B/X or roll your own, but I feel this is reasonable for supporting a system so many are fans of, and personally I want to see this game continue and have strong community support.

I am liking Genesys more as a structured story game. It is like a FATE-style story-system, but more geared towards cinematic play with easier to interpret narrative events built into the dice. It feels like the Star Wars game and movies with an ever-shifting balance or power, good things and bad happening, and lots of unpredictable things built into the rolls. The symbols on the dice make it easier to interpret "what bad or good things happen" on a roll, and the rolls are also macro enough to cover a large swath of action - like one roll covering a transition scene in a movie.

Roll Streetwise to find the seedy bar the suspect is known to frequent, and cover the hours-long task with one toss of the dice. Does anything good or bad happen while you are looking and asking around? Roll the dice and see. Do you even find it? Is there a possible cost, or did you gain a benefit? One roll does it all.

The only thing holding me back from fully enjoying the game was a lack of settings and genre-specific content. With the Foundry it feels like the community is being set loose on this problem, and that is a great thing.

Looks like some great stuff coming up and I am looking forward to what comes next.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Minutiae

 


One of the interesting contrasts in the Traveller community, and I will pull GURPS: Traveller into this discussion because it highlights the issue, is the "micro versus macro" topic.

Macro Games

Classic Traveller is a macro game. For all you care, there is one planet in a star system, the most important one listed in the UDP, and when you jump in you visit that. You don't worry that much about gravity, space stations, moons, other planets in the system, what the continents look like, what the safe jump distance is and if the star's gravity prevents jumping in near the planet, or any of that other low-level hard sci-fi detail. We don't worry about what the spaceport looks like, who the planet's leaders currently are, local customs and cultures, or much about anything else - this is all fluff, if it is there it is nice to have but not critical and it is not needed for play.

The universe is a large place, and if we get get bogged down in the details we will never go anywhere!

You see the same thing in B/X and D&D style games, there are parts of the game heavily abstracted because if we got bogged down in details no high fantasy would ever happen. The game would shift from adventure to some second-by-second combat simulator where having a metal pauldron on your left shoulder really matters then the goblin's spear targets a random hit location and you are left-facing them.

Ironically Forbidden Places is more of a macro-level game as well. It does have resource tracking, but a lot of those systems are abstracted and the system is more of a macro-level game on the macro story level than the "3 arrows left in my quiver" sort of game. I get this feeling it tells a larger brush of events and history than does a game that depends on marching order and precise combat map positioning.


Micro Games

In a game where minutiae matters, such as GURPS, Aftermath, Space Master, Rolemaster or others - heck yeah I want a system layout that lists every planet, every moon, every space station in the system, who the locals are, their government, the current in-system conflicts, what companies are there, what the system's defense forces are like, a random space traffic chart, maps of the planets, data on the economy, any wars or major events going on, what each planet produces, and on and on.

I want to be low level because I want to immerse myself in this universe!

The more detailed games have that assumption, where if you are tracking every kilogram of weight on every character, adjusting their casual and combat loadouts, and designing their skills and abilities down to the last character point - you want detail. The game runs on details. The game thrives when you get immersed in not only your character, but also the world you are in.

In some ways, especially in combat and the rules around feats, actions, and interrupts, D&D 3.5 was more of a micro-game, and D&D 4 especially so with powers and positioning.

I can see how players can get tired of all the detail, and games like GURPS or Rolemaster can be a chore to slog through and get working. It is like a phone or tablet with so many user options things are not simple anymore, while you have incredible options and power available for power users, the average user who just wants a phone that works can get turned off quickly. Even I get tired of the detail - I love it - but there is a point where if all I am doing is shuffling rules and choices there is little room left for story or anything compelling me to actually play.

But it is cool to know there is a mineral rich asteroid floating in low orbit of a low-density gas giant on the outer edge of the system, and you find an abandoned research facility on it not in any system records and the adventure begins...


Variant Games

That, for me, is the appeal of very low-level sci fi, and you see a variant of this in the Alien horror RPG as well. That game has macro-ized rules in places, but micro in the places where the horror is - the characters, what they carry, their stress levels, and where they are in a station are critically important. When the bad stuff happens, the game gets micro quick. In the day-to-day cargo hauling, space business and travel, it stays macro as it should.

Micro games can macro if you hand-wave away a lot of stuff too, like using GURPS to play Traveller and never getting that deep into the details. The question becomes, how deep do you want to go in the areas of the game that DO go micro? Do you even need that level of detail? It is nice to be able to sim second-by-second combat and know all the small things, but is that important for the story you are telling and the game you are running? If you crave the details, go micro and relish the game's low-level expressive power.

If all you care about is story and the large sweeping arcs of narrative, stay macro and do not waste your time with games that are a lot of low-level work for little narrative return. If you love the details, pick a favorite game that gives you what you crave and dive in. Nothing is "better" than the other, it is just personal preference.


Design Matters

Ultimately this is the game designer's job, what parts of the game are micro (and where the focus of the fun is), and what parts stay macro for ease of play and to reduce focus. When we played Car Wars we came up with a pretty cool "tire design" system. Yes, tire design. You could custom design your tires. You could put sidewall armor on radials, customize the tread, add internal run-flat support, and all sorts of cool features.

We could design the tires that came with the game and they came out perfect. Wow!

We had some cool tires on some cars and none of them mattered for the most part. Were they cool? Heck yeah! Did they matter to story? Very, very rarely. We ended up shelving it and just going with the standard tires for the most part, as that type of detail did not add anything to the stories we were telling.

It was the perfect case of adding detail where we thought it mattered, but it ultimately didn't and the game was better without it. Unless you are playing a game where you run a tire company, seriously, buy the ones on the shelf.

The game survived without tire design. It was minutiae and honestly, added detail to an area that wasn't that important. Some games on my shelf I still see this here and there, where some cool subsystem is still in the game yet adds very little.


Depends on the Game, Group, and Mood

Also, I have different moods, ones where I crave the detail, and others where I could care less and want a larger swath of story. Groups are like this too, and they can have preferences on how macro or micro a game should be given their tastes and the genre they are interested in. new players to tabletop gaming should probably start with more macro games, and as their tastes develop, go wherever they wish. Some will want to get into detail. Others just like story and covering everything in a more abstract way.

There are times I absolutely love immersion, and that includes rules and detail.

There are others I just want story and the large sweeping arc without the tiny details.

There are even others when I want to play with "story mechanic games" like FATE or Genesys.

Genesys I currently have out and I am playing with right now.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Game Shopping: Mythic Game Master Emulator

This play aide was suggested by one of the solo play videos for Forbidden Lands, which you can find here, and it is also a good walkthrough of the game and solo play technique:

It is an interesting product that works with any RPG, and is meant to guide a questions-and-answer style of play that "answers" questions about "what happens next?" Is the princess is this castle? Well, it is the end of level 1-1 so...probably not, but we can check and see. The core of this system relies on creating a question, assigning a probability, adjusting the chance for a "chaos factor" and rolling to see if this is true or not.

For that alone it is a cool product, but there are layered systems for scenes, random events, interruptions and all sorts other story structure generation. Scenes that you setup can be interrupted or altered, changing the expectations of what you had in mind. After a scene ends, you do a little bookkeeping and alter the current chaos factor, the list of characters, and also the story threads that are running (or may have ended).

There is also a framework for a scene and how you resolve one, with sheets to keep track of what is going on, who is involved, and how the story threads come out.

It is an interesting book (and you can get a hardcopy on Drivethru), and I will try to use this along with Forbidden Land's system to see how it goes. It is not a huge book, which I am glad since this sort of thing should be kept simple, and it has a 2-sided page of charts in the back of the book to help you out.

More soon on this when my books arrive and I start diving in to check things out - but it looks cool and a fun addition to solo play.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Game Shopping: Forbidden Lands

Sweden and Free League seems to be hitting it out of the park lately with games like Alien, Mutant Year Zero, and a bunch of others. And I am picking up their fantasy entry, Forbidden Lands, because it looks fun and I saw this solo play video:

Well...you sold me. The simple modern mechanics, old-school presentation, plus the combination of resource management and random tables, in a game designed to have no-prep and with "legacy" elements where the map and world changes based on your play? Stickers to put on the map to make it your world? It can be played solo? Ok, sold. Sold!

The legacy elements are compelling. This actually makes me want to play. With other games, I get a world book, I get a game, and if I do nothing, nothing changes. If I try to change the world, the world book is still out there contradicting me. I know it is a strange position to take, but I do have too many world books that feel like they are forever set in stone.


Worlds Set in Stone

Traditional world books are not designed to change and morph as you play. My Pathfinder and Forgotten Realms world guides feel like worlds carved into tablets of stone, until the next edition comes out and things are changed - and set in stone again.

Some players like exploring established worlds, like sightseeing through Star Wars locations or something. There is a magic to "being there" and I get that. But for solo play, again, like character advancement that I cannot predict, having a world and campaign setting I cannot predict feels like finding a huge missing puzzle piece in my solo gaming life.

This? Want to start a new "game?" Buy the map pack again and change things up, or just print one out and pencil away. The game's world is built to change, which makes everyone's play experience different, but you are also writing lore and establishing the world every time you play.

The only world book I felt invited me to expand upon and build the world was the original Forgotten Realms gray box set (still epic) for AD&D before the NPCs of the world turned into GMNPCs through the books and everything got annoying and overused. That boxed set was such a disorganized mess of notes and articles it felt like an open-ended package of referee's notes you were free to use however you wish.


Stars Without Number, but Fantasy

Stars Without Number does something similar, and also has a similar setup. A galaxy that was cut off and forgotten, and the stars open up and you are some of the first heading out and finding things. Your star-map in that game will become the campaign and lore in your game, based on the random charts and planetary design systems.

Here? Same setup but fantasy genre. Simple rules, a create your world as you play legacy setup, and you can continue to create characters, have players drop in and out, and your world grows the more you play. The game invited you to play it, because every time you drop in and have fun, you are world-building. Even if you lose a character or entire party, that loss is a part of the world's story and you keep going. Create a new group and send them to find out "what happened?"


New Stories and Perspectives

Maybe what happened isn't what you think happened. It is your story, your world. Want to paint the fallen group as invaders who were up to no good? This is your story. If the previous group burned down a forest to kill marauding ent tree-creatures, you could flip the story on its head by creating druids and elves, friends of the forest, and paint that previous group as the bad guys and keep the tale going from a new perspective.

Every party you build, every session you play, builds the world from a new point of view.

Play as a bad guy and start an evil cult and mage tower, along with a marauding army. Conquer an area of the map and build a dark empire. Then turn around to create a force to fight them as heroes to free the lands. Whatever you want to do is cool, every story builds, and things keep changing. Very few games invite you to play as a bad guy, and then turn around and use them as the campaign's bad guys. And maybe, what you played and how you thought it went wasn't the real truth. Have fun with it!

There are rules for building strongholds, so if a group lasts long enough to build one, you could retire them, put the settlement on the map, and transition those characters to NPCs and you just filled out another piece of the puzzle. Your world expands. Use that new settlement as good guys, bad guys, destroy it and make it a mystery, let it prosper or fall into ruin or hard times, put new people in charge because of a plot, or use it however you want.

Have the old heroes drop in as NPCs to help out, hinder, or be the bad guys.

This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated games of 2021 by far, and I can't wait until it gets here to see if it lives up to the hype.


NOTE: IF you are having trouble printing out the character sheets using Adobe's PDF viewer, try Foxit PDF viewer. I got that to print them without errors nicely.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Templatized GURPS

There feels like two versions of GURPS out there, the normal 4th Edition rules, and a more "class focused" version of the game (using the same rules) that heavily uses templates for character design. There are rules for templates in the basic 4th Edition rules, but the chapter is very short and the templates are a bit, well, generic.

When you start exploring things like the GURPS-powered Dungeon Fantasy (more on this later), or some of the various web supplements from Warehouse 23, you begin to see more and more templates pop up to guide character design. This is the real value to some of these PDF guide, you get page after page of character templates that flavor your campaign with all sorts of cool character builds to choose from, create NPCs from, and study for ideas.

They aren't "classes" and even in the rulebook they tell you - break these if you want to - but they give you a fast and easy way to build a character through a series of lists and "al a carte" menu choices around a central theme. The lists have enough variety that not every character built from a template will be the same, like you could build a medic soldier or engineer soldier, so you still have room to customize (with well-designed templates).


Guidance, Not Limits

They don't limit you, but give you more options, which is how I like a design system to work. If you really, really want a spell-flinging fighter, save some points from somewhere in your template and buy that magic skill and spells you have your eye on - you are still playing GURPS so the "rule zero" is "buy what you want and what makes sense."

In a way, templates are a good idea, since it gives you a theme to a character as a starting point, and the you take it from there. One of the huge weaknesses of a point-buy character creation system is your designs tend to get "samey" the more you play the game, since if you find something that works well in one playthrough there is nothing stopping you from buying and using that again in another. Even if it doesn't make sense.

But you can't eat chocolate chip cookies all the time. And even I get sick of the same old shtick over and over again. It reminds me of the current build de jour that always seems to be floating out in the pen-and-paper community for whatever game is hot right now. I am sure GURPS has these too, and they are almost unavoidable unless you stick to B/X and just give everyone the same basic thing.

I have to admit that is another reason to like B/X, when I get tired of power gaming and just want to enjoy the on-the-metal version of roleplaying with the options and classics I treasure. But there is a charm to point-buy too, and GURPS is a good system for that and my current choice got that type of game.

I looked into Hero 6th, but I still have my 3rd or 4th Edition big blue book and I have no reason to buy a new one at the moment. And it has also been 10+ years for 6th and I want to see if they will do another run of color printed books instead of the PoD ones currently for sale. If they do a 7th Edition Kickstarter with stitch sewn color hardcover books for Hero, I am all in.


Character Design Flow

I like how the templates read as a "choose your own adventure" book, you go to a section, and you have to pick X points from this list of skills, powers, or abilities. And then you go to the next area and do the same. You get advantage and disadvantage lists. You get magic powers. You get combat skills. Ability score bonuses, and so on.

I wish more games were like this, where the random elements were taken out, and you just designed a character through a class-focused series of lists and choices, and you ended up with a character ready to play by the end and you are good to go. I would even say equipment should be linked to these choices or similarly guided along.

For a GURPS style game it speeds everything up is players are not constantly fighting over the book to choose this or that, and you can instead hand everyone a print-out with the choices they get to make and let them all work on their characters at the same time without book reference (other than Q&A about what a choice does, which the referee can answer).

Also, if a player really wants a power or ability off the list they are working with, they know the cost, and really need it - ask the referee and get a green light for the change. This is something I would do on a per-request basis, since you want to tamp down power gaming and you don't want to break the flavor of the templates and the world that forged them.


Solo Play

Templates are a lot easier for me to solo play, since I have the template, the choices are in front of me, and all I need to do is run down the lists and make choices. I am not sorting through a book and min-maxing based on my default class-design bias. I am being forced out of my safe-space and challenging myself to different builds and abilities.

I can get choice-paralysis in a game like GURPS just given the book and nothing else. There is so much there I have no idea what I want to do or where to start. If someone tells me, "design an archer with this template and play this scenario" - I can do that. If someone says, "here is nothing and design a character to do anything" I am going to sit there with a stupid look on my face and likely go back to videogames.

Templates give me a very strong solo-play starting point, and give me that initial momentum I need to get my imagination flowing and the story going inside my head. With a blank do anything design system, I find it hard to even get started. This is also a problem from software design, having a detailed specification document, goal, and problem you are solving is a lot easier of a task to complete than someone walking up to you and saying, "make me a game or app."

I really like templates and wished more games used them, and even eliminated some of the random elements in the design process for more meaningful and flavorful choices.