Sunday, April 30, 2023

Nostalgia is Garbage

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

I'm sorry, there must be a price for this.

All nostalgia is garbage.

I am sick of it being used to milk money and attention away from me and steal the chance I (or any future generation) have of creating their own NEW things that future generations can be nostalgic about. Nostalgia is theft. It is used by lazy companies to steal the chance of us to enjoy something new, that "first experience" like the original viewers of Star Wars had back in 1977.

We will never have that if nostalgia is allowed to continue.

If I want the original movie, game, or book - I will go to the original and enjoy that. Any remakes will be ignored and rightly called the garbage they are. I don't care how "good" they are; if you remake the past, you aren't making anything.

From this point forward, I will create my own new ideas.

I will enjoy creators who have new ideas.

Do I fall prey to the nostalgia trap? Yes, I am human. Whenever I try to relive the past, do I walk away feeling empty and disappointed? Yes. Nostalgia is the equivalent of a high-fat and sugar diet. It feels great for the first few minutes, but you feel sick afterward. I have memories of the games I enjoyed, but I get let down every time I try to relive them.

Where would we be if they hadn't repeatedly remade the same games? Instead, the creators could do something new, and we could all experience that together for the first time? You could even say that today's version of "high fantasy" with that "planar focus" would be even better if it did not have to look back so much and clean up perceived past mistakes.

By being so chained to nostalgia, you hurt the world and the ideas you are trying to create. You spend energy cleaning up things you don't even need to address had you created something new to begin with.

And we get stuck in arguments about the past, asking which version is better. It is all toxic. It is used as wedge marketing to force customers to defend the "new stuff" versus those who "cling to the problematic past." The corporations make us fight as a marketing strategy, and they know nostalgia presses buttons.

Deny them the anger. Deny them the hate marketing. Deny them the clickbait articles. Don't waste your life on this.

Abandon all nostalgia.

New creations fix all the problems. Those are things we can unite behind and love together.

Instead, we have one foot in the past and another in a crappier future version.

With nothing new to enjoy.

And it is our fault.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Boxes of Stuff, Tangibles Lists

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Some games are nothing more than a few loose rules tying together a box full of like things. The "stuff" the game collects is more important than the rules. Many sci-fi games fall into this sort of game design routine; there is very little difference between classic sci-fi games other than theming and flavor.

We mixed Traveller, Star Frontiers, and Space Opera equally. They were all just "stuff books" for each other, with Space Opera being the king. We didn't know much, the starship conversions were messy, but it worked out.

One of my favorite games in the genre is the excellent Cepheus Deluxe. I tried the new Traveller, but the Imperium setting keeps the game from being an actual 2d6 generic system. I prefer 2d6 with the Imperium removed and that core complex sci-fi universe challenging you at every turn. Still, I get the feeling a lot of these games are designed like that "box of stuff," like the classic Aftermath! game and its million ways to die, to-hit charts for snakes, hexagonal grenade explosion templates, and a strange assortment of late 1970s sporting goods weapons, like 0.22 long-rifle slash 0.410 shotgun break action over-under rifles.

The rules exist to hold the box of stuff together. With both games, the mechanics can get repetitive in ways never intended, endless die rolls to complete an action, with die rolls before combat rounds begin, layered die rolls to make attacks, and even more, die rolls to find out what happens to who. Many of these die rolls exist to confirm the average case or provide a "wouldn't it be cool" bonus that ends up being gamed hard since it is the easy path to win.

Incremental vs. Overall Design

This is where a game designer needs to step in and ask, "Why?"

Why are we rolling so many dice? Why are there this many steps to something that should be conceptually simple and serve the story? How many steps and die rolls do we need for one round of combat? Do the tiny differences matter?

Cypher System was a wake-up call to me, with its single-challenge rating system and abandonment of the minutiae. This is clearly veteran game designer work, something streamlined and designed to get out of the way and let you tell your stories.

Game designers, especially veteran ones with decades of experience, have been around long enough to see when a game's design is leaning too much on dice-rolling for procedural rules. Pretty soon, you get so lost in the box of stuff, multiple rules, and successive dice rolls in chains, you are applying special modifiers for one piece of gear in a unique circumstance, and suddenly, the trees are all you see.

Not the forest.

And indeed, not the story you are trying to tell.

The Tangibles List

But these boxes of stuff are the tangibles that link the experience together. What would Car Wars be without spike droppers, paint sprays, and flamethrowers? Some of these items are outside your typical "Road Warrior" experience, yet they make that box of stuff say, "I am Car Wars!" You can pick a few items out of Traveller, like the laser carbines with the power backpacks, the standard issue "blade" weapon and some space pirates still use revolvers and sabers as their boarding party weapons. That says "Traveller" to me, the same the iconic "power drill" laser pistol of Star Frontiers says that the game's box of stuff is unique and iconic.

You need those tangibles to tie the experience together.

I get why some don't like generic games like Cypher System, FATE, GURPS, or Savage Worlds. Cypher almost goes out of its way to simplify gear and weapons into three basic categories and toss away many special, single-case rules tied into gear. With Cypher, if you have the gear, you ease the task. Some tasks may not be possible without special gear, like hacking into a computer without a computer. All weapons are light, medium, or heavy. Even gear prices are grouped into a few levels.

Let's say you wanted to play a Traveller-style game with Cypher. Where would you start?

For me, the tangibles take precedence. I would probably print out the middle 30 pages of  Cepheus weapons and gear and use that as my "tangibles list" for my game. Starship combat, I would need to figure out. But that gear list ties the experience together, which is what you should start with when emulating a genre. I can simplify these down to Cypher-like items, the tiered weapons, and the gear that eases a task, but that gear list is my tangibles for the game.

The same with the fantasy genre, but there are some tremendous generic OSR equipment books to build your tangibles list from, such as the excellent Old School Armory (DriveThruRPG has this). This can be boiled down into the Cypher-like gear and weapons system, but it gives you a list of items that define the game and experience. When someone goes shopping, hand them the book. When you need to gear out a bandit, use the book.

The base Cypher rulebook has some great tangibles lists in the genre sections, but those feel generic. I prefer defining my genre and backing that up with a tangibles list to define what the players can find, hold, and use in the world. A lot of the "other stuff" can be cyphers and artifacts themselves; in that hard sci-fi game, you could say "the items of the ancients" are scattered around and use cyphers and artifacts to simulate ancient-tech items and have a great game. In fantasy, those are the magic items.

I feel that the "tangibles list" is one of the "unsaid parts" of the Cypher System, assumed to be there in the generic gear lists they give you, but much better if you can find and define a specific source of items in the world that you can use to say, "This is what is in this world."

You need cyphers and artifacts.

But you also need a defined, concrete, and well-designed tangibles list to base the foundation of the setting. While gear and weapons are ultimately flavors, strictly defining that flavor will keep the game grounded and feel more like a setting based on reality than on a list of generic items. These items also serve as inspiration for items that may ease the difficulty in tasks you may not have thought of, as that 10 gp crowbar will come in handy for forcing open stuck doors and chests. Defeat a vampire and want it to never return? You need that mallet and wooden stakes for 3 gp.

You need a great tangibles list.

Once you have a tangibles list, many other parts of the setting just come quickly. With just the Cypher System rulebook, I can have a fantasy world. With that tangibles list defined in a book like Old School Armory, what was once a "generic fantasy world" takes on an entirely new feeling, more old-school flavored, but definitely different than the one that comes with the core Cypher System book.

Yes, this is still just all "flavor," - but the flavor is narrowly defined and in a collection that is compelling and interesting enough to capture your imagination. This also gives you ways to break free from the generic parts of the game that don't seem compelling, like for treasure, and gives you the flexibility to drive player motivation with game-world wealth and value.

Real Money Options

Also, a great tangibles list with prices will let you break from the monetary system in Cypher System used in character creation, where prices are generic and tiered, to one based on the game world's currency. Sure, in fantasy, you can start with an "expensive" item; but once the game starts, you will find 157 sp and 68 gp and buy things from your tangibles list using that, not the generic tiered prices used only in character creation.

Then, seeing that 5,000 gp fist-sized ruby will put a sparkle in your eye. Some genres thrive on finding that 1,300 gp, or having 20,000 cr to upgrade a starship and having a tangibles list that supports prices and currencies adds to the flavor of the game and takes it a step away from the generic and into that familiar feeling area.

Could you switch freely between generic prices and realistic wealth? Nothing stops you, and using both systems may be beneficial. You could convert all a party's treasure to one wealth value and say it could buy a castle. You could keep realistic wealth for most found treasures, say a side job provides comfort equal to a generic price level, and track that on the side.

But if a party likes shopping and saving money for purchasing artifacts and other power items, having a tangibles list gives you a few more options while increasing flavor and immersion optionally and seamlessly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Really Undermonetized?

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Another day, another stupid thing in the news about a particular game company and, "What did they do this time?"

You need to think hard about what you are supporting. Any support you give companies like this, even older editions, tells them you want this to continue. You put money in the pockets of those who use coercion and force against the community. Yes, this is likely some people's livelihood and YouTube money, and some cannot walk away. For some, it is their community.

But I walked away.

I can't support this.

And covering up for disgusting behavior, and putting a smile on that face, is a massive turn-off for me.

More and more, accepting that their game died and I was not returning was the right decision for me. I don't have to make excuses, say "well..." or convince myself that supporting older editions (when those still support them and feed the current one) will make it any better.

These things happening, the things they say, prove they have not changed for the better, listened to anyone, or cared about feedback.

The top people at every level need to go. Even the parent company. This is how we start. This is the only way we make sure it never happens again.

Then again, I gave up on them, so I did not care. You choose to support their products, and you open yourself up to this treatment - and support it happening to others. Hearing about their unacceptable behavior, sending muscle to enforce their Wall Street monetization plans, hearing the latest stupid thing they said, seeing the pain they cause communities, or having to make another excuse for them is negativity I don't need in my life.

And it is effortless to make your life 100% better.

Walk away.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Extinction Events

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Every so often, and this is a personal thing, not a "gaming industry" one, there comes the point in your gaming life when you experience an extinction event. You could lose all your books, lose a gaming partner, lose your group, and you enter a period where you know you are not going to recover quickly - or at all. In my case, I did not lose a single book, but it hit pretty hard with some significant house damage and a complete change in my gaming life, space, and interests.

In rebuilding a "happy place" where I could game and find peace from the upcoming storm of repairs and life disruption, I had to ask myself, "If I lost it all, what would I be happy with?" My new space where I can game is limited, so my game choice needed to fit that area and not require large maps, pawns, places to lay out rulebooks, and gaming materials. I had about three empty shelves for everything in this space, which I did not want to pack with books, and they needed room for folders, notes, dice, cards, and other things I would use to play, so in reality, I had a shelf and a half.

My Cypher and Numenera books fit there nicely. This was also the place I successfully played Cypher System with friends recently, so the game was a natural fit for the space. I moved the books to the spot, far away from my other gaming collection, and in a world where I had none of my other books, I asked myself, "Could I be happy with this?"

And the answer was yes.

The other books could be upstairs or a world away, and I would not miss them. Then I realized where I was in life, in the middle of a hypothetical extinction event where I was taking stock of what I needed and wanted. This is one of those moments where you split your collection into the books that make you happy and all the others you could live without.

If something does not make you happy, get rid of it. You don't really need it in your life.

With Cypher, I can GM that online or in person and never need to open a book. I have fun playing it. This replaces 5E and all my generic games. The space I need to play is very minimal. The game does anything, and I do not need to sort through lists of content. Too many games are "list games" that rely on the illusion of quantity over quality and ship with thousands of low-quality magic items, monsters, gear, powers, spells, character options, and junk.

I am done with the supersized games. Searching through six monster books for one creature or looking it up online and realizing it is a minor variation of something else makes me feel the game is wasting space and offering low-quality variants as content.

I appreciate design and universality.

An appreciation that minor differences in modifiers don't matter.

And a game that emphasizes a dynamic narrative structure with equal player input.

So my life changed, and I got through the extinction event feeling good about my choices and happier that I went through it all.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Fantasy Gaming 2023

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Fantasy gaming has felt tough this year. I get this feeling of, "Why bother?" The entire genre feels like it has moved on from sacrifice for the greater good to this selfish notion of personal affirmation.

It is never us; it is me.

If they wrote the Lord of the Rings these days, it would be about "what's in it for me?" Characters and choices seem less altruistic and help the world and more like personal fantasy fulfillment for players. Therefore, the stories do not interest me, and the entire genre feels stuck in a rut. As a result, my interest in fantasy gaming is at an all-time low this year.

Wizards of the Coast does not help, but I am not retreading that ground. D&D is a nightmare that is hard to wake up from, but I must. Every dumb thing they did or said  - or will in the future - makes me feel bad. D&D is dead; some mobile gaming profit portfolio for Wall Street and best left forgotten.

I tried Pathfinder 2, but the game is too many rules and options for me. They stopped production of their pawns for many things (I think only monster books will be supported, and not adventure paths), and having collected those, I am moving on from those as well. It is still the best D&D alternative, but it is just overkill for solo players like myself. The game seems best when a group can come together, learn it all, and have players be experts in their class.

Castles & Crusades fits me well and can be played from a 3x5 index card. This is OSR-like and modern, eliminating many pointless reference charts, attack tables, saving throw charts, thief skill charts, and special rules. This is my fantasy game of choice but with a tiny problem...

I like the narrative rules in the Cypher System better, especially for solo play. I don't need a solo-play system like Mythic, and the game runs well with a simple oracle dice roll for yes-no questions. There is no reference in this game either, you just pick a difficulty (and a few special modifications if you like), and you are set to run anything. I have run a full adventuring day in a 30-minute session, so the speed can be breakneck or slow down for a more involved experience.

Enough is going on; adding a solo play system would seem redundant. Do I use one during play? Not as much as I do in a traditional game, no. If I have a question, maybe, but I can d100 the answer, go "really bad" to "really good" and leave it there.

The narrative systems in Cypher System make the game for me. Spending XP, as a player, to modify the narrative helps me world-build and "push back" against the oracle in an incredible way. An oracle would not easily create an NPC contact or significant resource since there is a built-in "GM bias" in most oracle systems I have seen. In Cypher, if the characters want to pay XP for a base, change the narrative for a player intrusion, or change the world in a way that helps them - they can.

Player intrusions tell the oracle, "Something else will happen!" This is great for me as a solo player since I twist the story in a way the character likes. Temporary benefits can be purchased with XP. Long-term benefits, NPC contacts, bases of operation, and other tools are all at the player's disposal.

And the players can even start new story arcs with XP and have those payout XP as steps in them are completed. Where in Pathfinder or C&C can I do this? As a result, my maps and stories become very alive with all sorts of exciting things quickly, and I find a Cypher Game hard to leave go for long.

I need to see what happens next, what they find, who they encounter, or what they discover.

Oh, and Discovery XP is a thing too.

The pool "burn down" also makes the game interesting. A great adventure burns the characters' pools hard, and that tension starts to ramp up by the session's end. In a D&D game, "pool burn" is terrible (hit points, spells, resources); you are spending resources. In Cypher System, pool burn is the game, it is fun, and you are managing resources and rests all the way to the end of the adventuring day. As a solo player, that pool burn is the game, and you are pushing your characters as hard as they can go and trying your best to see if they should take a break - if they can.

Using my monster pawns? Pick one, throw on special abilities, choose a level, and fight! I am not looking them up in a book, balancing encounters, or referring to pages of monster stats. Make a mistake, and the creature is too strong? Burn an XP for a player intrusion and escape to fight another day. If you have one.

Cypher System is becoming my game of choice because of the flexibility, lack of reference, risk-reward ratio, and power you get with narrative.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Newspeak Edition Rules

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

When games become politicized, and every word is offensive, they typically get overwritten and confusing.

Half-elves are being supposedly replaced with "Children of Different Humanoid Kinds," or CD-HKs for short. And the paragraph describing them doesn't need a sensitivity reader; it needs an editor. What should be a simple "pick a background" is this vague, unclear, do-what-you-want mess of "half-isms" that will anger nobody and please the same amount of people. And the rules still use the word "race?" Okay, it needs both now.

Here? It is "pick one side or another - no mixing!" They managed to make the solution more problematic than the original rules.

If they make every stat modifier for background, "the player chooses," simply eliminate the concept of race and let players "be what they say they are."

This is where they are going anyway.

They might cut to the end result and take it all out; I can't recognize many Pokemon-humanoid crossbreeds that qualify for D&D races in the newer editions. Give all characters a stat bonus and a few special powers anyone can have, and let them decide on the shape. If a player really wants to be a Gumby with a clay horse, let them. Add a lightning bolt power as a character option, and you make everyone happy.

I get this feeling class is next. The answer is the same, give everyone a few stat bonuses and let them pick a few class power packages. Or just play Cypher System, which does both of the above and is the better 5E-style game these days.

Keep the rules simple and non-political, like Monopoly. Writing over a thousand pages for a new edition just for Newspeak wastes money and resources and causes further environmental damage. And when they waste time explaining themselves, you get less in the books, and the game becomes harder to play.

And apparently, it is still 5E?

More Newspeak.

The best thing to do is the most obvious and simple, but I get the feeling that isn't really the plan.

These people aren't game designers; they are social media marketers. They are changing things to cause "buzz" and "controversy." If you have nothing to sell, monetize the anger. Create sides and sell the right to be on the correct one.

The game is dead.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Post-D&D Era

Admittedly, giving up on the game is tough since I grew up with D&D. With every controversy and the repeated damage they are doing to the community with dumb statements that sound like fresh-out-of-college fools, I don't just choose to give up on them - I need to. I can't pick up the game, look at the Forgotten Realms, play a classic module, watch a D&D movie, read the novels, or do anything else in this hobby without being reminded of their reprehensible statements and behavior.

I check social media each day and expect the next dumb thing to come out of their mouths and see innocent people defend them because they care more about the community they built, and they want to close their eyes to keep it alive. It is understandable, but the company is putting people in a challenging position to defend the indefensible to maintain their social circles.

I don't know what this is. Perhaps "brand appearance" on social media is more important than the game itself. They anger people, deliver a lower-quality product, and think saying popular things on social media will get people to play. News flash, upsetting parts of your customer base, labeling certain characters (and people who choose them) as "inherently this or that," and forcing people to pick sides is toxic behavior.

So I avoid the hobby and fantasy genre, which is unacceptable.

Does that unfairly paint the original material as somehow related to the current owners? Yes, it does, and I throw no shade at anyone who still loves the classics - game on. This is like learning something terrible about a famous actor and going back and watching his earlier beloved work - I get that same feeling.

The hurt is there, and I need to divorce myself from it entirely to move forward.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Cypher With Friends

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

This week, I have had the rare chance to play Cypher with others, and it has been a blast.

The system was instantly learnable; we created live in-game characters during the first encounter, and I taught the rules as we played. I used my tried and true "tutorial character" system of having someone in-game explain things as the situation progressed. That character gradually became less of a tutorial character and more of an NPC when the group felt confident.

The best thing? The players did all the rolls, and I would ask them for a d6 or d100 roll when I needed one. I forbid myself from touching dice or having them on my table as GM. When they asked why I was doing a d100 roll, I told them why, and they followed along in the book with what I was trying to reference.

So they were all learning how to game master too.

I have no "GM screen" or "secret adventure notes" to reference, and I kept a pad of paper to make world notes. I used my tablet on a stand as my "book" and played music on it. I had nothing hidden from my players, nor did I need to.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Another great note is to make the XP flow like popcorn. Use a generous XP rate, and encourage rerolls, player intrusions, and spending XP to change the world. The world is just as much of my player's creation as mine. They wanted a base; they created a "desert castle" as a home base, spent 3 XP and created it, and then spent an XP creating character arcs to repair and fix the place up.

And just like that, they were invested.

They purchased NPC contacts, created player intrusions, changed the narrative creatively, and had much fun using the one-use cyphers to cause havoc and solve encounters in ways they never expected.

Cypher System is one of the best games I played in years, and it is even better when playing with others.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

D&D is Dead

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

They can say all the nice things they want and put as many rules under the Creative Commons as possible, but they still work in a trash fire.

I went to school with plenty of mixed-background kids, we played D&D together, and I loved them as my friends. They shared the best of both cultures and had this incredible worldview and mix of families from different perspectives. To see them come together during the holidays was mind-blowing.

To be invited to an experience like that changed my world for the better.

Incredibly, this group of designers can't see that. They eliminate mixed-background cultures from the game in a highly regressive way. Even if a new system is replacing the"heritage system," the way they said this and painted mixed-race people - is just wrong. Perhaps these designers never experienced people being able to coexist and share culture.

They are trying to keep themselves relevant by making the older editions the enemy.

Also, calling the concept "inherently racist" will label players who choose them the same. Do you think anyone in D&D Beyond will pick these - or use the "build a" options, with the possibility of being called that? The Wizards team is doing its best to destroy the game and its community. They are idiots.

It is sad, really.

D&D is dead.

The Backpack Game

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

A massive part of B/X punishes you for not correctly taking shopping seriously. I kid, but it is true. Whenever I get out of my Cypher System narrative haze and settle down to play B/X, most of my time is spent managing inventories.

What is not in that backpack could kill you.

You don't have a rope and spikes? A tinderbox? Bandages? Enough torches? Chalk? Waterskins? A mirror? A walking stick? Oil? A bedroll? Food? A sharpening stone? Soap? A washcloth? A knife?

I can think of a dozen ways not having one of those items could doom an adventurer.

Some games make you "play by the pound" and carefully craft your loads. I can get into it when I am into those and have the tools to streamline the process. Without a computer, it is painful. With GURPS Character Assistant, I can get my load down to 0.25 pounds, have a droppable backpack that will get me into the next-lowest encumbrance category, and I am all set.

This is one of the reasons why I like playing old-school dungeons in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy; the software makes inventory management more effortless. Not painless, but it is much easier than doing it by hand. The characters are 100 times more complex, but if you are going to go whole-hog, I prefer to do a complete simulation. Middle-grounds, where the stats are simple, but the gear management is old-school, feel a little off to me.

Some games, such as Castles & Crusades, standardize the "backpack" per class and give you loaded pre-set grab-and-go packs. ACKS even has equipment packages; a few OSR B/X style supplements do gear packages. C&C also does a simplified encumbrance system where you aren't tracking pounds, and ACKS does something like this. You can still die from a bad shopping trip, but it is a little more painless (to shop, not to die).

Some games only list encumbrance for treasure (like OSE) and assume the first 10 pounds carried is "adventuring stuff." It is a fair compromise and simplification. You can still die from a bad shopping trip.

Many sold-school games wander into this "gear trap" trope, where the novel solution to problems relies on MacGyvering backpack items to problems. There are times when I am not in the mood, so I will play a narrative game and ignore the gear game for the most part. In Cypher System, need a mirror to peek around a corner? Spend an XP, do a player intrusion, and make it a more significant part of the story.

Solo Play is Different

You need to ask yourself, why do I play? And this answer for solo players will differ from when you play with others. When I play the OSR solo, I manage equipment I never use. This takes time and feels like a waste since gear use and problem-solving rarely arise in my solo play. I will spend an hour crafting a perfect loadout for a character, and only 5% of the time is it necessary.

In a group, yes, there has to be something outside of "math and the rules" that players can have creative input on. Creative gear use is one of the ways players "break the game" or "solve problems outside of the box" and is a critical part of the play experience.

This is where Cypher System really shines for me, is solo play. The limits on carrying and using "cyphers" and the random nature of finding them and gaming their use changed the solo-play gear game for me dramatically. This system is a game where you could get away with buying "an adventure's backpack" or "a clockwork toolbox" as an expensive item and have it filled with all sorts of exciting goodies. I wouldn't even require a player to list them and handle it one of two ways:

As an asset to a roll, the item should be in the pack (iron spikes, rope, chalk, a flask of oil).

As something a player could use to trigger a player intrusion, such as, "I pull out a spare gear from my toolbox and see if it fits the machine."

It is fair since the player gives up an expensive item (or whatever level you want it to be, depending on contents) and gets the "backpack" as a "bag of tricks." I would limit this by type to prevent it from becoming too powerful, and an inexpensive bag would only have ubiquitous and cheap items inside, while an expensive one would have better stuff.

I would also limit this by "type of item" to prevent abuse, such as adventuring gear, clockwork toolbox, automotive toolbox, priest's bag, soldier's backpack, EVA tools, cowboy rucksack, vampire hunter's bag, etc. Be careful of the generic "backpack of stuff," and force players to be specific. The more specific and narrow the description, the more situations it will be helpful in related to the use, and the better benefits the bag will give. A "modern soldier's medical backpack" will have far better medicine and uses for treating wounds than a generic "modern soldier backpack."

It is like requiring a few "descriptors" to be chosen for one of these "universal backpacks" in the game, which helps balance and prevent abuse.

The Survival Game

Other times, I like building a complete loadout for a character. That survivalist game is going on, and it is fun to shop and anticipate gear needs while balancing the weight carried. This is where complete equipment lists can kill a game for me. I am happy if the game's gear list is simple and boils down to only the best and most useful stuff. If I have to sort through a Sears Catalog for every character and buy extra lute strings, I will end up cursing the completist and list-based "more is better" game design.

And yes, I know that is GURPS too, but I still like the game.

The backpack game reminds me of old-school survival games such as Aftermath! I have seven 0.45 bullets in my right pocket, a swiss army tool, two batteries, a spool of fishing line, and three disposable glow sticks. The storage containers and where you wore them mattered, and fetching things stored in different locations took differing amounts of actions. This is much like GURPS; you can get this detailed there too. It is also a big part of the play in Pathfinder 2 - putting something in a backpack when needed will cost you.

Shopping Can Be Fun

The backpack and shopping game feels like a part of old-school gaming. I like it when not everything needed is available, the moment you assume every small town has a "fantasy Walmart" stock of goods, then shopping loses its fun.

Looking for candles in a small village? There may be some at a shop (if it is open), or you may have to trade with locals. Looking for rope? It may not be easy to find, and you may have to barter with a farm or other tradesperson who may have a stock of some. Good luck getting a suspicious small-town blacksmith to craft a few replacement lockpicks.

If shopping and finding gear is a bit of luck and a game, I like it much more.

Picking from lists and shopping at superstore-sized catalogs where everything is always available bores me and pushes me back into my narrative games. Part of the default "modern-world 5E/PF2" assumptions with " gear lists" of many campaigns turn me off.

Massive games with too much choice are not games since there is little thought into the design and how things work together. They feel list lists with rules holding them together.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Qedhup (Cypher Streamer) Needs Our Help

One of the best Cypher streamers had his computer gear fried due to a power surge and needs the community's help. He has a limited income, so any amount is appreciated to help get him back online and create content for one of our favorite games.

I am always happy to share these calls for help, and his content is excellent.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Slower Games vs. Cypher System

I play the Cypher system; I can sit down at my table, play for 30 minutes, and get an entire day of adventure done for a character or two. It is a narrative-focused game with enough crunch and character build detail to create various character types.

Then I get on a high, feel good about myself, and try to play other games.

And they often fail me, have too many books to reference, or just sit there on a shelf while I tell myself I will play them but never do. And I end up not playing the hanger-on games or Cypher System, and I stall again. I get into this bad habit of switching games when I should stick with the one I love and ignore everything else.

And they ruin my focus. I like Castles & Crusades but don't want it out when I focus on another game. Same with ACKS, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and others. I love you, but not now. I am playing this.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

So I box up the games I am not playing and put them into storage. This helps me; it takes away the choice paralysis and focuses me on the one set of rules I have out. I don't want to front a shelf of dozens of games; that is a worst-nightmare scenario. Good for streaming and showing cred but terrible for sitting down and playing.

The hanger-on games are the enemy of my focus and concentration. If I am playing them, they are my main game. If they are out and begging me to play them instead of what I am having fun with, I don't want to see them. If I focus on playing something like Pathfinder 2, I will box up Cypher, but I don't foresee that happening soon.

I can get a lot done in 30 minutes in Cypher System compared to other games, where it takes me 30 minutes to read the first few pages of an adventure, and I am still trying to reference the rules and monsters I will need. Having that "instant fun" and "turn off whenever" is why I love the Cypher system so much.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Cypher feels like a portable game system to me. It is always ready to play, fast to pick up, and quick to put down. The interface and design elements are focused on streamlining the play experience. You may not have the full-bore power of a gaming PC, but for my needs, a fast, light portable game system that does many different things quickly fits my time and expectations for a game.

I can walk up to my gaming table, come up with a scenario - with characters - in my head, and play it out in 5 minutes as I stand there and make the rolls. I don't need to open a book to look up a goblin's unique abilities or hunt down monster stats in a book. If a monster needs an ability, like troll regeneration, it gets made up on the spot. If it is too strong, award an extra XP for the trouble and adjust down for next time.

That is fun.

Is it "rules as written?" In Cypher, yes. In the other games, no.

Too many games ship these days with a book full of lists or random charts, and call that a game. More is not better.

There is a suggestion in the excellent Solo Game Master's Guide that says, "everything is playing." In many games, you never get to play because too much work is involved. Designing a GURPS character and sorting through build options for Pathfinder seem on the same level of complexity to me. With those games, there is a high cost of entry, and even playing the game requires a significant amount of effort in setup and combat management.

"Everything is playing" is a great rule that keeps me in the game.

But this is taken to another level in a game like Cypher, where the "instant fun" button is always ready to be pressed. In 30 minutes, I can play an entire adventuring day - with a party. In many systems, doing that would take me 8 hours minimum, and so many rules referencing that my wanting to repeat the process would be strained.

Creating a Cipher character takes me 10-15 minutes, an upfront campaign cost. I can do this by hand and on paper, which is nice. Past that point, there is zero cost in preparation, reference, or setup.

Everything is playing past character creation in Cypher - is playing.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

April Fools

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

No jokes here, sort of tired of this holiday online, so I stay off the Internet.

Take the day off today and enjoy the outdoors.

There is a world outside.