#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 27

Share a great stream/actual play.

This is a tough one. I don’t watch or listen to a ton of actual plays. The ones that really interest me are of games that have captured my attention. Often they are ones that my friends produce.

I am very fond of the annotated actual plays that the Runeslinger YouTube channel puts out from time to time. ~ These are labor intensive, but give a great behind the scenes look into what is really going on. Likewise, I have become very fond of actual plays that include or are followed by reflections videos and discussions. This inside look that is provided via these commentaries and discussions can be invaluable to those considering a game or those struggling to learn it.

I have good friends who produce polished and professional streams and actual plays and take great pride in it. ~ I know why they do this, and the final product is aesthetically more pleasing than a simple plug & play stream on Hangouts, but I have a different take.

Tonight I played in a game ran by JdrD30 AKA Francois Letarte, who introduced me to online play during BrigadeCon 2016 when he invited me to play in a Game using the  RPGS setting. Tonight we did the same thing in a different country in the RPGS book & a different system. (This has been an ongoing project of his). Tonight’s game was fun, and we streamed it live on Hangouts.

What my initial experience with Francois showed me was that I could play online too, & that there was literally no barrier to entry. Sure, Hangouts is notoriously clunky & suffers from audio difficulties (which mostly show up as only one person being able to talk at a time), but it’s a no brainer to use. ~ Streams with discord & open broadcast software look prettier, but if that’s what I was exposed to at first, with all of the extra steps & requirements, I don’t think I would have been confident enough to take the plunge into online gaming. And if I hadn’t done that, I would have missed out on so many great games & players.

So at the end of the day, the stream that wins my vote is the one that when the inexperienced guy or gal watches it, it makes them think “I could do that too”.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 26

Your gaming ambition for the next year.

The last two Decembers I have made RPG resolution videos. I actually accomplished everything I set out to do in 2017 that I had listed in the video I made on December 7th 2016. I don’t think I’m going to accomplish everything I listed for 2018, but that’s OK, it was an optimistic list.

Nothing in this question specified “calendar year”, (or fiscal year, sidereal year, synodic year, or even year of jubilee), so I’m going with the idea of RPGaDAY to RPGaDAY. ~ The reader on my iPhone pronounce this “Rup-GA-day” which gives no end of mirth. (I’m partial to “Karen” with the lovely Australian accent).

I thought about mentioning specific games. Sure, Broken Rooms & Circle of Hands are on my list to play, as is really learning the ins & outs of the FFG Narrative Dice system in Star Wars & Genesys. ~ However, I think of those more as goals rather than ambitions.

One ambition I have is to improve my GM skills. ~ I’ve noticed that I’m less fluid than I’d like to be. Maybe I’m rusty, & maybe I just notice my deficits more. Being exposed to a lot of new GMs has shown me areas where I can improve and branch out. In many ways, I still feel as though I’m finding my voice.

I’d also like to improve my study habits in terms of how I read & learn games. ~ I’ve mentioned in the past that reading & concentration have become very difficult for me. Learning a new game can often be very frustrating. I believe that some of this is due to my approach & even a lack of discipline. This is something I would like to work on.

I’d also really like to continue exploring different game experiences & seeing which ones really feel the most like “home” to me. ~ I’ve noticed that some of the RPG experiences I like or gravitate towards are somewhat contradictory, & I find that intriguing. In many ways they seem to be explorations of different facets of myself. I have found that I get much more out of this hobby than I previously imagined, & I’d like to continue to examine that.

It is amusing that none of the three ambitions I mentioned are easily measured in any quantifiable way, So I’ll throw in one that is (sort of). ~ I’d still really like to start a small group of local gamers that are as compatible with me as the people that I play with online, (or at least open minded enough to try some different games than the mainstream).

So many games & experiences, so little time…

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 25

Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year.

An impact you say? What kind of impact?

The past year has been an enlightening one. I’ve found that the more that you look into this hobby, the more riddles & enigmas you discover. Often the games & how we interact with them & the other people show you things about yourself, and about the complexity and diversity of human nature. ~ But this blog entry isn’t about that…

A bunch of games crossed my radar this year, but one has stood out in terms of “impact” for me this year ~ Hollow Earth Expedition. Written by Jeff Combos of Exile Game Studio, HEX (as it is often called) is a pulp adventure RPG set in 1936. A Raiders of the lost Ark vibe complete with Nazis, dinosaurs, and a mix of the real world with the supernatural in whatever ratio you wish is as good of a description of the game as any.

Although my experience with the game and with the Ubiquity system which powers it has gone on for more than just the past 12 months, HEX is still the best answer for this year based upon my experiences. ~ This RPG has been consistently enjoyable and satisfying every time I’ve been a player or a GM. The experience is fairly reliable, and that’s not as easily done as one might imagine.

I know, the question didn’t ask which game was the most enjoyable or satisfying, but hang on. If you pay attention you’ll see where the impact fits in.

If I’ve learned anything the past few years, it’s that I’m dreadfully ignorant of the depth of some genres. I like “pulp” in it’s various incarnations, but I have not read or otherwise experienced much. A lot of this literature & media is on my “to do” list. ~ However,  reading this game I instantly knew the vibe Combos was going for. The tropes are obvious & compelling.

The impressive part is that the system itself does a great job of creating the feel that the flavor text of the game suggests. Ubiquity is a system that excels when all hell breaks lose. And break loose it shall ~ as long as the GM and the players keep the genre in mind. This isn’t that hard. As a GM you just need to give the characters about as much rest as Indiana Jones ever got, and as a player you need to be be willing to go to absurd lengths to push your character in the direction of their strengths, while playing up their weaknesses.

The great thing is that the system rewards & encourages that sort of play. It takes some getting used to, but the more you do it, the more natural and “right” it seems, and as a result you end up creating the exact kind of fiction you signed on for when you decided to play the game. ~ HEX is an impressively good match of intended genre & system. It’s not over the top super heroic, (characters are human and more fragile than in some other games), but it’s not gritty & unforgiving either. For me it’s a “Goldilocks Zone” RPG.

After all, this is a blog about me right? ~ The past year has been full of discovery, & part of that discovery is what play experiences feel the most natural and satisfying to me. While it’s too simplistic to say that I like or prefer one feel, I have discovered that I gravitate to a few types more than others. I can see where on the various spectra I lie compared to my friends.

As I’ve consistently discovered, HEX is one of those RPGs which creates or supports one of my favorite types of gaming experience. Even the character creation is a win for me. They instantly become something special. ~ I can honestly say that I have really enjoyed not only all of my characters, but I’ve also really enjoyed all of the characters that the other players brought to the table, either by my side or when I have been on the other side of the metaphorical screen.

So I get two impacts for the price of one. HEX continues to reinforce the concept of system reinforcing & co-creating genre in a powerful way. My experiences continue to bear this out. At the same time, I have discovered one of those spots in the RPG landscape which feels like “home”. ~ While I’m always hopeful that my friends will find the same enjoyment with it that I do, the experience also makes me open to trying their favorites which produce a genre via system as well.

Hey that’s three impacts ~ Buy two, get one free.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 24

Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

Where to start? ~ This is a niche hobby to begin with. Then consider that the lion’s share of attention is given to one or two games. Zoom out a bit more and you still see that a handful of games dominate most discussion and apparent play. (I say apparent, because one can never assume that how things appear to be is an accurate reflection of what is really going on). Step back still further, and you might find 20-40 RPGs getting the most spotlight time.

As you observe this dynamic, keep in mind that there are thousands of RPGs out there. There is no way that one person could play them all, or even know what they all are. ~ Sure, some are well designed & well written, while others fall short. Some are innovative, while others are less exciting. But even if only ten or twenty percent of the RPGs out there are worth the candle for you, that’s still a lot of games.

When I first saw this question, I realized just how limited my exposure to the myriad of games out there has been. In many ways I’m playing “catch up” due to my periods of inactivity in the hobby and my original tendency to stick to a particular set of RPGs. ~ I look at my shelf & I could honestly say that most of the games I’ve bought in the last two years qualify as deserving greater recognition. Hollow Earth Expedition & Leagues of Adventure may have greater fan bases than Circle of Hands or Broken Rooms, but all of them are worthy of play. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So, I’ll answer this question a little differently. ~ The game that deserves greater recognition is the one that your friend has discovered and has been trying to get you to play. It’s the RPG that you have seen a review of by someone that you have come to respect or trust or identify with. It’s the game that is outside of your comfort zone or preference or experience. It’s the game that will allow you to explore sides of the hobby that you haven’t before, and it’s the RPG that supports the play experience that you like, but does it even better than the last one.

The RPG that deserves greater recognition isn’t just the one that you’re excited about. It’s the one that you discover quite by accident, when your friend shows up and says something like ~ “Hey guys, anyone want to play Blue Planet with me?”

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 23

Which game do you hope to play again?

I have a lot of games on my shelf and on PDF that I hope to play, but I haven’t played them yet, so they don’t qualify. Likewise, there are games that I have played that I hope to play again, but I can’t imagine that I’ll have trouble getting some folks together to play FFG Star Wars or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

Many of the games that I’m playing are being done slowly, when we can all find time and coordinate schedules. I hope to play these again, but I’m currently playing them, if you catch my drift.

So, I’ll give you two answers. One of these games has a very good chance of seeing play in October, which makes me happy. The other is technically on hold, but I’m not convinced that the players all want to return to it, so I’m counting it as not currently “active”.

Desolation is a wonderful RPG by Greymalkin Designs, and by wonderful I mean a dark post apocalyptic setting where a high fantasy world was ruined overnight by a cataclysm that none really understand. Powered by Ubiquity, it is not exactly pulp heroics, but it does have an awesome free form magic system. This has the drawback of being able to kill the caster if they are not careful. ~ Good Times.

Uncharted Worlds  by Sean Gomes is my other pick. A very atypical PBTA game, this space opera is an RPG that I would like to explore in more depth. It’s probably never going to be one of my favorite games, but I really find it compelling & I’d like to take it for a longer test drive with some players. Hopefully as a rotating GM experience.

Time will tell.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 22

Which non-dice system appeals to you?

I’m going to cheat a bit & talk a bit more about dice. But, I promise that it will be a nice segue into the actual topic ~ & besides, it’s my blog, I can do what I want.

Checking out a lot of the responses for day 21, I was reminded of one of the preferences I have for dice mechanics that I didn’t mention. I like them to be simple & elegant. Not just for ease of learning or ease of use, but so that the dice can be a powerful symbol of the fiction with a minimum of interpretive steps needed to know what the outcome represents. ~ In other words, once the dice mechanic is internalized, it is a powerful experience to have a group of players all bent over the table waiting for the bones to stop rolling. The cries of elation or despair are as natural as they would be as if we were all present in the fiction & witnessing the events that the dice roll represents. Sure, some systems like FFG Star Wars or the Reaction Roll in B/X D&D require some creative interpretation of the particulars, but we can all look at the result and instantly know if it’s bad, very bad, good, or very good. ~ The more layers of procedure or lookup post roll, the less the dice act as an analogue of the events in the fiction, & the less captivating the roll becomes.

That said, there are many non-dice resolution mechanics out there which are fascinating, but the more complex the interpretation of what they actually mean becomes, the less they appeal to me. Some of the card based ones are fascinating, but many of them do involve those additional layers of lookup & interpretation, so they are less visceral than the quick clatter of the dice. (besides, I’m terrible at shuffling cards, as in really, really bad at it). ~ There are lots of non-dice systems or mechanics or procedures besides resolution based ones, but I’ve decided to stick to resolution based ones for RPGaDAY as it fit with the thoughts I had about the last three questions as a whole.

The one I’ll talk about that appeals to me a great deal is something that we have been doing forever in the RPG hobby, but which has been formalized in some games. ~ The technical term for this resolution mechanic is Karma. It’s not a term I would have chosen, but it has stuck & I have acquiesced to reality.

In short, Karma works by comparing the difficulty of a task or attempt to the competence or raw ability of the character. No roll needed. I’ve been doing this since 1981. ~ The player declares that his character tries to cross a slippery plank from one rooftop to the other. “What’s your Dexterity? 16? OK, no problem, you cross the plank.”

Just about any character has some list of numbers or words informing us about how competent they are in various areas, how strong they are, how lucky, how graceful, if they’ve been a cop on the beat, if they have the ability to sway a crowd, whatever. Usually there will be an indication of where on a spectrum they fall in a number of different skills or attributes. ~ Coincidentally, the game will generally have an indication of the relative difficulty of various tasks. In most case both the relative ability of the character & the relative difficulty of a task will be represented numerically. This makes them easy to compare at a glance. ~ Even in games that use signal words for competence & for how daunting an attempted action might be, a comparison of these values isn’t tough.

The Ubiquity System used in Hollow Earth Expedition, All for One, Desolation, & many other nifty games has taken this long used method of diceless task resolution & formalized it in the ability to “take the average”. ~ Unless the GM or the fiction dictates that a roll of the dice is appropriate, the player has the option to “take the average” result of rolling their die pool, which is equal to half the size of the pool. This means that a character with an 8 die pool in a particular skill can automatically succeed in tasks related to that skill that require 4 or less successes on a roll of the dice. They’re just that good. (Remember how we talked about how dice pools model operating at your level of competence yesterday?)

I like that the system allows & encourages the GM to take the average for NPCs, so often as a GM you don’t roll dice. ~ A lot of the game can go much faster that way, & when the dice come out it’s special. Another cool thing about Ubiquity is that the style points resource can be spent to add more dice to a pool in order to represent the character pushing themselves above & beyond their normal capacity. This can be done in a manner that requires a roll, but just as often that character with the 8 die pool can spend a couple of style points to be able to succeed at a task requiring 5 success via Karma/Taking the Average as well.

Rolling the dice is fun and can be exhilarating, but do it too much and it becomes commonplace & stale. Whether it’s part of the rules as in Ubiquity, or used informally as a bit of common sense, the use of Karma to resolve less dramatic moments can help make the really dramatic ones come alive as the dice hit the table & we all bend over them in anticipation.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 21

Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

They all do really. ~ I like dice. I find the mechanics that we use in RPGs fascinating. What are we trying to model? Why? What sort of outcomes are the dice called upon to determine? How many different fictional prompts are possible from one roll? How do we decide when to roll them and when not to? ~ The list or questions is seemingly endless.

Which dice mechanic appeals to me really depends upon the effect that it is being used to produce. Different mechanics produce radically different feels, and we’re not just talking about how often you succeed or fail. Creative game designers can have dice mechanics that represent a myriad of elements of the fiction. ~ Some do a fantastic job of emulating a genre or tone, and that always appeals to me on an aesthetic sense. However, I might not like the final feel of the game, but you might. Different strokes.

Percentile dice have always appealed to me. Math is funny. All dice mechanics boil down to percentage chances of various results. I don’t care if you’re rolling a rainbow fistfull of FFG Star Wars narrative dice, there’s a percentage chance of each possible combination of symbols coming up. Get enough d10s together and assign them to tens, units, tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc & you can model anything. ~ But then again, you could just use the other dice you’re trying to model.

Silly examples aside, I still like percentile dice an awful lot. A game doesn’t have to be complex in order to use them to good effect. ~ It’s also very easy to wrap your head around your chances when dealing with percentages.

I’ve become quite enamored with dice pools as of late. Now, the criticism that single dice mechanics like a d20 or d% are “too swingy” compared to dice pools doesn’t exactly hold water, depending upon what the dice are supposed to be determining. If the roll is for a simple success or failure, then the final number you end up with really doesn’t matter. Don’t believe me? ~ Read on.

The chance of rolling at least 4 successes on a pool of 8 “yes/no” ubiquity dice is approximately 65%. (63.67) The chance of rolling at least an “8” on a d20 is 65%. ~ If both of those conditions indicate success, then they are pretty much equal. The fact that the results tend to cluster around 4 successes on the dice pool while they are all over the place on the d20 doesn’t matter. Unless…..the roll also determines the degree of success or failure.

It just so happens that Ubiquity die pools can determine a degree of success or failure, which is cool. That clustering around the middle means that on average, a character of a given competence level will perform at or around that level of competence on most attempts. Minor failures and somewhat better successes are also rather likely, which also represent performing just below or above the character’s level of competence. Abysmal failures & remarkable successes are rarities, just as they tend to be in real life. This is one of the strengths of dice pools like the ones used by Ubiquity, Fate/Fudge, and a host of others. ~ Even a small dice pool like the 2d6 PBTA mechanic is designed to have “partial success” occur most of the time. That might not be the most “realistic” result, but that is a hallmark of that system.

However, the other side of the coin is that while dice pools do an excellent job of modelling competence in a “realistic” manner, the likelihood of “Hail Marys” and “I can’t believe you tripped over your own shoelaces” becomes vanishingly small. ~ If you want those effects to show up on a somewhat regular basis, then a linear mechanic like d20 or percentile dice where the number rolled actually matters beyond simple success or failure is your best bet. ~ Which one appeals to me depends upon what feel I want for a given game.

Then again, sometimes the old standards are the most appealing to me, especially when I need a quick resolution for an unexpected situation. “You want to what? ~ Roll a d6, try for low.” ~ It’s easy to discount such a simple and ancient mechanic, but it has its charm, and it can model a range of chances fairly well. ~  Is it a Hail Mary? 1 in 6. Hard? 2 in 6. 50/50? 3 in 6. Easy? 4 in 6. Almost a sure thing? 5 in 6.

D6 roll low isn’t for everything, but it does have its place.