Thursday, 26 August 2021

Real Things


DrivethruRPG is a dangerous place. I know more than one collector of roleplaying paraphernalia and whilst it could be considered a life's work collating gaming concepts it could also construed as all just shopping. A little harsh perhaps as some systems are long extinct and some may never make it out of alpha; 'Core' and 'Basic' also seeming to be synonyms for the prototyping of products and if you have any of the primordial paperwork from the early 80s its likely to be a wonky photocopy of a few typed up sheets. There are those of you out there who know exactly what I mean.

More to the point I am on the verge of  buying the StarFleet Adventures Core rulebook from Modiphius as I have been so impressed with the system and of course it will aid in the game I am currently playing in. So off I go clickety click and hit a slight pause when I saw it was £44. To be fair at my age inflation does make its presence felt across the decades and my measuring stick has always been the D&D PHB as I have watched it slowly rise towards £30. But its not so much the price as the price difference as the PDF Trek version is only £15 direct from Modiphous themselves. Its a classic dilemma really as a book full of postit notes is far more manageable than scrolling through a screen but as yet I don't know if this is my age speaking or whether phys rep will always be a more manageable resource. There is a synergy between using a data pad and a playing a scifi game though but add to the pot that games are often on Zoom or Discord together with something like Roll20 exactly how many screens and pads will I be needing ?

Its not the money of course as £44 is not going to break the bank and as an art form one cant really place a value on creativity but at the end of the day its all got to be wrapped up as a product. Its a general pdf vs reality question really but perhaps the answer is that pdf is good for the GM to peruse outside of the game wherever they find themselves and paperback whilst playing. Seems like the the logical outcome would be to purchase both; I wonder what Spock would say..

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Plot Monkeys


It was a pleasure to make an escape last weekend by way of a camping trip with some old friends and whilst I am not larper my fellow role-players were swapping outdoor stories of prosthetic ears, drunken zombies and plot monkeys. Now the term plot monkey is not one I have heard before and whilst I would only ever have a single disinterested pointy ear trained on a larping conversation I did actually pay attention on this one. Certainly I am aware of both the hard work and  workouts of larp GMs who have to run around a forest in the dim twilight resolving combats and turning plots but in this instance my colleague was talking about an escape room.

At the risk of sounding like Phileas Fogg, I noticed my first escape room whilst gazing out of an Oslo hotel - a rather incongruous purple building squatting amidst the more somber elevations of mostly grey facades. Whilst I enjoy the occasional puzzle game, anything larger than a Monopoly board just tends to feel like a waste of space and whilst puzzles can be fascinating, I wouldn't say they are immersive. However, as it became clear from an increasingly drunken conversation there are those for whom its also a roleplaying experience.

My camping colleague said it was now her turn to make the plot and the context was going to be a roaring 20s lock in mystery. Apparently each of the characters only  has access to skillsets related to their background and whilst clues are of course dotted around, they are colour coded such that only a specific character has access to them. This way not only do all characters get involved with a solution but its slightly easier for the author or 'plot monkey' to ensure events are progressing in good order. The plot monkey also takes part within the event as a latent GM to keep things moving and to steer any conversations if they either get too bogged down or veer to far. The idea of a GM taking part in a game is an interesting one and allows a much gentler hand than the tabletop interventions and I am wondering for the first time if this would be useful in the tabletop although I suppose perhaps NPCs provide this traditionally. Either way I now have an invite to a 1920s party with the possibility of being trapped there forever. I hope there is enough wine.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

More human than human


Whether its an alien species on a distant planet, or elves in the mythology of the before time or indeed a newly born artificial intelligence, the prospect of taking a holiday in some else's skin has always been a major appeal for the roleplaying crowd. There are systems that push this to the extreme whilst still retaining appeal and I am thinking of something like Eclipse Phase where personality fragments are tossed into a bucket with a few tentacles and computer chips and what ever crawls out will tend to have a good career in one of a number of customer facing roles such as catering or assassination. The lineage of Orcs and Elves is well established to the point of clich├ęs and if you really want to play something unsavoury there are the demons and devils of Dungeons and Dragons and with a sprinkling of undead I would have imagined that most tastes are accounted for.

But it was whilst trying to fall asleep through a documentary about the first civilizations and the city of Ur I began to wonder exactly how may other humans there actually were before we ethnically cleansed them and whether there would be an interest in playing within ancestry worlds. Clearly the sapiens won the Darwin Award which means we were the most adaptable but only perhaps were the most intelligent. I can imagine that the non sapiens could have been more specialised than us but still having a similar reasoning skills and cultural depth. On the other hand I have certainly enjoyed playing rather dim witted half giants and orcs alike and whilst I am never too optimistic regarding their longevity, its fun to do the stupid thing occasionally or continually state the obvious - base play can certainly have a role in keeping things moving. In fact I don't think I have been in a game where people haven't overthought things.

In terms of the human options there are many to choose from  - Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo floresiensis (nicknamed 'the Hobbit'), Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals) and the recently discovered Homo naledi. These are all our less fortunate cousins but perhaps in other circumstances and certainly in the roleplaying space, their cultures and civilizations could coexist and thrive in the same world. In terms of racial bonuses and background options we are bound only to our imaginations and to what archaeologists have discovered so far but if a game could be viable then perhaps we could do more than offer our thoughts to those who's fires died out just as our began to brighten.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Mud and Lasers

One of the games being proposed for the next club rotation is Lancer which I had thought was just a wargame albeit in Warhammer style. It is perfectly possible for a wargame to overlap with a roleplaying game but I suspect that more accurately it would be better if both forms of gaming were drawn from a common narrative. The proliferate novels in the Warhammer series are a good example of how narrative is laid down one strata at a time over decades to eventually form a deep archaeology from which culture and warfare can be created serving both role playing and tabletop gaming respectively. Whilst there is some inconsistency in the Warhammer lineage due to the many authors, the timespan over the narrative is so vast that it seems that the contradictions are a matter for historians rather then GMs which enriches the interpretation of events rather than frustrate them.

Tolkien is similar as its spawned both a gaming franchise as well as an RPG, it just so happens that it was crafted by someone doing the work of a hundred authors - a lifetimes work. Basically, as with all things, quality is in the detail and Lancer has the challenge of being a Kickstarter which naturally has to solve a lack of lineage. In the first instance it focuses on a rules light approach and narrative, modular  advancement which makes the game quickly accessible and is a must for a kickstarter. Its play canters around Mech warfare which has its audience in Warhammer, Heavy Gear/Jovian Chronicles, Shadow of the Demon Lord and the like.

But where do you get your culture from when you are a kickstarter? Well the simple answer is to pick and mix from an already vintaged sci-fi stock. This has never really occurred to me before - as a SciFi fan I am already aware of the vast number of stories that are as yet untapped by the movie and TV industries but Lancer simply pulls suitable elements from already notable works and makes no bones about it; to quote

"Lancer draws thematic inspiration from various media: The lived-in, cosmopolitan, working class CRT retrofuture of Aliens, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Akira, and Cowboy Bebop; the science fantasy of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, Bungie’s Destiny, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Moebius’s The World of Edena and Arzach, and Anne Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy; the soldiers-on-campaign tension of The Thin Red Line, Band of Brothers, and Platoon; and the subjectivity-fraying uncanny of Tarkovsky's Stalker, Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and Evangelion’s Angels."

Blending concepts together is an excellent method for world building but like all pick and mix, shovelling too many sweets in to the bag tends to mix gummy bears with chocolate so there is a need to be a little sensitive to the pallet before players end up vomiting over one other .