Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
It is probably Mekton Zeta, a mecha RPG. As I wrote about earlier, none of the mecha RPGs I read really satisfied me because they don’t capture the themes that I find important in Macross. Most emulate Gundam, and I’m enough of a nerd to maintain the two franchises are fundamentally different — and this is also apparent with Mekton Zeta, even though there are some references to Macross in the game. Also, it doesn’t help that I’m the only mecha nerd in my gaming circles, so I’d have to educate any prospective players in the tropes of the genre, which I think won’t make for a fun gaming experience. (I mean, I can talk for hours about it, but it would probably not be very exciting for the players.)
It could also be Blue Planet. I have the first edition and some expansions of the second edition (gifted to me by rupertdaily way back when) and I don’t think I’ve ever played it either. I really like the setting: hard SF with some cool concepts, but unfortunately it relied on something kept secret from the players — and of course that leaks almost immediately, taking away a lot of mystery of the setting. Again, a setting which requires a lot of “education”, which will have contributed to me never playing the game.
Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
I actually don’t do a lot of tinkering with RPG rules. I just assume that the authors have done their best to get an exciting and balanced game, and most of the time that works out well enough.
So the real answer is: almost all of them.
Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?
The Apocalypse World Engine games have a strong tradition of adapting a game to do something else. Dungeon World started as a ‘hack’ of Apocalypse World, for instance — but it is now its own thing. Almost every AWE game includes a chapter with advice on how to adapt the game to your own needs and tastes, and shows how changing some ‘moving parts’ will affect the type of game you will get as a result. I really like that DIY attitude, and I find the insights into the design considerations fascinating.
Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?
None of them: I’m kind of done with open-ended campaigns. There’s so many different games with their own different settings and potential stories, and I am greedy. I want to experience it all! So like I wrote earlier, I’d rather play short, focused campaigns — so that I can experience a game to its logical conclusion and then move on to the next, to experience a different ruleset, a different setting, a different story.
I have never had an open-ended campaign come to a logical and satisfactory conclusion, so I’d rather not invest my time in one.
Describe a game experience that changed how you play.
Playing Dungeon World and other Apocalypse World Engine games really changed how I approach games these days. The “Play To Find Out” mode of play is really interesting because it actively invites player input. It made me decide not to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen, because that module puts the adventuring party on rails and takes away a lot of their ‘agency’ in the module.
A player should have full authority over what their character does or attempts to do. And these long-term campaigns, they can be full of “no, you can’t do that” moments, and HotDQ relied on that to keep the story flowing. Needless to say, I didn’t think it was very good. And playing PTFO-games only strengthened that distaste.
That is not to say there are no problems with PTFO games. Rather, they tend to be rather sprawling and meandering, because there are all these loose threads introduced in play that may or may not need resolving. And as I wrote in the answer to question 9, I’m kind of done with large campaigns. It’s a fine line to walk: on one hand, you want to invite player input and not over-prepare; on the other hand, you want a coherent narrative that can be wrapped up in a reasonable time-frame. Best thing to do, I think, is to invite lots of input in the first half of the campaign, and then, during prep time, turn that into a single narrative and work towards a satisfying conclusion.
Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?
I’ll give an honourable mention to Dungeon Crawl Classics. The interior art is that wobbly, detailed style with lots and lots of stuff going on. Exactly what the game is like: no clean lines, everything is grimy or covered in mud. The modules are fun as well: in the ones I have, there is an illustration in the back of the book of four adventurers — it’s an ad for the DCC game line. These are also the characters that are used for the illustrations inside: so you see these people fight against the monsters that are described in the text. That’s fun, but there is also an illustration that shows how one of them is killed by one of the monsters.
And then in the next module, you see that the place of the adventurer that was killed is taken by a new adventurer, and a different adventurer dies… That’s really what DCC is about: a struggle against the unknowable.
But I’m not a big fan of the DCC aesthetic. I am a big fan of The One Ring, and that interior art is really good as well. Muted tones, brooding marshes and quietly menacing woods, heroes resting during their travels in the broken ruins of kingdoms that fell ages ago. Only occasionally do we see a battle scene — just like it is with the game. That’s exactly what the game is about, so that one takes the prize.
Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?
That is, without a doubt, the Amber Diceless RPG.
You see, back when it was released, in 1991, there were hardly any story-focused games. It’s the same year the D&D Rules Cyclopedia was released, and Vampire: The Masquerade. V:tM claimed to be all about telling stories, but the dice mechanics in there really rewarded tweaking your character’s stats.
Not so with Amber. In Amber, there are no dice. There isn’t even a character sheet! It was so completely unlike any other RPG — there were fierce debates whether it was an RPG at all, since there were no dice to roll!
It was the first game (that I was aware of) that just did away with action resolution mechanics. Higher score wins, period. This also means that you have to trust your GM, and that better narration gives better results. This attracted a very diverse set of players who were not that strongly into the ‘sweaty try-hard’ mode of gameplay that was prevalent at the time. And like always when diversity increases, the community becomes more vibrant too. So vibrant, in fact, that this single niche RPG supported multiple annual conventions across the world!
We attended some Ambercons too — they were always very good fun. Lots of people tinkering with the setting, thinking up interesting ‘lenses’ through which to explore the game. And the source material leaves lots of room for interpretation and extrapolation, creating a fertile ground for non-traditional thinkers who want to do something else than crawling through dungeons. I ran a series of scenarios where the players were Vikings, recruited by the Elders to fight against the Courts of Chaos. But I’ve also played in games inspired by Scottish history, by Wacky Races (really!) and pretty much everything in-between.
The game itself is now ‘dead’ — even though there are still Ambercons going on, it’s mostly the die-hards that attend and I don’t think there’s much new blood flowing in. After all, the only released expansion, Shadow Knight, dates from 1993. Sure, “Lords of Gossamer and Shadow” has taken up the diceless mantle (see my review here), but the publisher died last year. His widow has taken up the torch, but the publishing schedule will undoubtedly slip. And LoGaS, while sort-of compatible with Amber in rules and setting, just doesn’t seem to garner the same attention and excitement.
Over on RPGGeek, there’s a fun thread to make a dungeon together. Someone selected a dungeon map, divided it into rooms/areas and invited the visitors of the site to design the rooms. Good fun, and while it could have become a weird ‘zoo-like’ collection, it seems like it’s actually pulling together with a relative consistent theme. Pretty cool how a large group of like-minded individuals can get together to create something cool in almost no time at all.
As a white man working in technology, the lack of diversity in our companies is of immediate concern to me. And I know that there are ‘bro-grammers’ who seem to think women aren’t fit to work in tech, and I just don’t want to engage with idiocy like that.
Normally I wouldn’t even write an entry about it, but today I found this excellent post which expresses my exact sentiments with such clarity.
By the way, if you are one of those people who still thinks that the memo was “perfectly reasonable” or “made some good points”, and we know each other, please get in touch so that I can re-evaluate our relationship.
Where do you go for RPG reviews?
RPGGeek. If I’m curious about an RPG, I navigate to the game’s page on RPGGeek. The linked forums make it easy to find reviews, but also Play-by-Forum threads of people actually playing the game. Reading through that makes it even easier to get a feel for the system and the setting. I also participate in the GeekMod peer moderation, when I have the time, and I get to see some reviews even before they are published on the site!
I hang out with a few RPG players on various Discord servers. I tend to pick up ‘buzz’ about a game there, which prompts the research.