Monday, February 22, 2021

OpenQuest 3 PDF for Backers - One Step Closer to Done!

The final OpenQuest 3 PDF has been released to Kickstarter backers and it looks great! The quality of the art overall is superior to prior editions and the layout/design is impressive, Newt Newport of D101 Games has outdone himself and I am thinking that I must plan my next campaign to use OpenQuest now. 

For those of you not familiar with it, OpenQuest is an OGL reimagining of Runequest and BRP using the Legend OGL from Mongoose as its original base. The system is designed to appeal to the Runequest/BRP fans who have been left behind by Chaosium for various reasons, which includes fans who liked the older 1st/2nd/3rd editions of Runequest (I'm personally a permanent fan of the Avalon Hill Deluxe Runequest era), and it's flexibility as a game system to handle more than just Glorantha simulation. Likewise, BRP got its moment in the sun with the Big Gold Book, then was eventually abandoned when Chaosium changed ownership, turning in to a much more basic 32 page document with a limited open license. OpenQuest 3 solves the problem of having a decent fantasy-based edition of the D100/BRP system which can both emulate Glorantha games if desired and your own fantasy games. It also provides some setting details on the world of sword & sorcery evoked in prior D101 game products.   

Anyway, keep an eye out for more soon, I am sure it will be up for sale for non-backers at some point.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Back to Starfinder!

After a few week's absence I am ready (finally) to run more Starfinder. I made a few executive decisions:

1. I chopped up the Fly Free or Die adventure path to extract some interesting bits, then went back to my original campaign premise to resume what I want to do, incorporating the worlds and ideas I've been developing over the last four or five Starfinder campaigns I've run in the last few years.

2. I took a real "this is Pathfinder but in Spaceeee" focus, with the idea that I should design the campaign the same way I would a Pathfinder adventure, rather than the more open way SF games tend to command (ala Traveller). I've got "stuff" I can use as needed should players defy expectations, but the goal is to provide a sweet motivation for the players to want to pursue the interesting content I spent the most time on. Then, in true form, that content is designed for the most flexibility in terms of how they approach it. 

3. The Big One: I made a serious, conscious effort to avoid a problem I decided was what was causing issues for both my Starfinder game previously, and in fact may have been what nixed my White Star attempt last year: I'm taking it seriously (playing it straight, in other words). There's a temptation to lean in to weird elements of space-fantasy settings and notice when some things that are happening appear to be tropes, or derivative, or cliche, or just plain silly. 

White Star has this problem at times because a majority of its content is derived from popular scifi's the Qinlon/Canneck/Yabnab/Rawrr problem; the game lampshades in its own naming convention that these are really klingons, daleks, ewoks and wookies. As a result, using such content inherently feels derivative if you don't figure out a way to change it up a bit. When I ran my original couple of White Star campaigns I avoided this issue by making qinlons more like in-control versions of Firefly's reavers or the wastelands goons of Mad Max, making the cannecks more like horrifying Von Neuman machines that destroy worlds than anything resembling the silliness of daleks, and in those campaigns it was the original edition of White Star so I could ignore yabnabs and rawrrs (something the Galaxy edition makes harder to do....yes you can, but your players can't unsee what they saw, y'know?)*

Starfinder has this to a certain degree as well. It's got some strange setting assumptions that can be easy to lampshade if you aren't careful, since the rules themselves don't really prepare the GM for the hows and why's of the implied Pact Worlds setting. These include:

The Gear Economy - why a level 1-20 scale of increasingly expensive but useful gear exists as a thing in the context of the setting;

The Starship Economy - why starships are not part of the economy and are part of the leveling scheme (though some rules in Fly Free or Die help muddy that water a bit);

The Fantasy Elements - explaining a mix of fantasy and scifi tech is not the issue, it's clarifying why there are elves, dwarves, orcs, drow and other fantasy species spread out throughout the galaxy; removing these species is possible but creates gaping holes in the toolkit infrastructure of the game. The game itself treats the presence of such species in space in strange and unusual ways. For an example look no further than ghouls to see how a horrific cannibal undead monstrosity gets turned in to a semi-docile workforce that just wants to get past its ancient reputation while working dangerous jobs living beings can't. Sometimes this works well, but other times it just feels a little....cartoony? Goblins, skittermander and other elements pose problems when a GM wants to run a game that feels like a universe that could exist outside of a cosmic multimedia blender. 

My solution is to lean hard in to the same thematic elements that make Pathfinder games fun, but now with more space stuff. So rather than delve into the mundane elements of how a space trucker economy works and how space thieves guilds function (the subject of Fly Free or Die AP) I'm going to stick more closely to the idea that this is what a Robert E. Howard tale would look like if it were written in a science fiction universe filled with both fantasy and magic (okay yes we have Almuric to look too, sure**). The assumption I am taking is that there is infrastructure to this spacefaring society in the Starfinder universe, but its just barely enought o sustain some sort of trade network and industry, and the vast majority of worlds are teeming with strangeness, hidden mysteries and horrors, and that the underlying risk in this universe is precisely the same as it tends to be in a straight fantasy setting....just with lots of additional tech. 

This means that a nontrivial percentage of worlds in this version of the Starfinder universe are just techno-feudal societies where the noble elite remain in charge, but the resources are hoarded or squandered and rarely do you see something resembling a normal futuristic society that might fit in Traveller. I'm going to assume that movies like Forbidden Planet, Zardoz, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Star Crash, Krull, Starbeast are more informative of the thematics of this universe than more realistic science fiction. I can even assume that the very D&D/Pathfinderish ages-old conflict between Law and Chaos informs this universe at its core, explaining much of how the perpetual churn of social, technological and magical conflict continues unabated. 

Anyway......that is a long way of saying I don't want "docile orc mechanics, ghouls who just want to be useful, gnomes being gnomes and skittermanders and goblins being themselves" to dominate the overall feel of this campaign. I'd like the campaign to feel weird, old school, and homage but not derivative, and genuine instead of a parody or farce. If a goblin is going to get up to something, I'd like to think it's because there's a genuine culture of goblins in the woodwork, laboring under a reduced social status while living off the wreckage of high tech and high magic societies above, and not just because we need a quick encounter with some slapstick. Likewise, ghouls aren't just misunderstood humanoids suffering under centuries of strife, but a deformed caricature of man wrought in necrotic energy, undead beings who struggle on a good day not to consume the flesh of the living and shun the light, and a handful strive to be seen as some semblance of what they were in life, while far more find solace and freedom in the cold darkness of space.

We shall see! 

*I know that there is a lot of fun to be had by leaning in to this stuff (playing for the derivative content as a focus), but you can't really mix that sort of thing with a serious campaign (ime).

**That, however, is planetary romance which is actually a different kind of genre. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Encounter Design and Level Consideration in Pathfinder 2E Hexploration

I had been reading and responding to a post at Enworld on hexploration when I realized it would be fun info to also post here:

I run hexloration campaigns in PF2E per GMG rules pretty consistently, but what I do with the encounter tables is create slightly more elaborate ones that are based on party level. So a chart for CL 0-2, CL 3-4, CL 5-6, CL 7-8, CL 9-10 etc. Then, when I check which chart to roll on for the encounter I roll a positive D4, a negative D4, add the first and subtract the second to the currently average party level, and then use the indicated chart. If the encounter is for some reason meant to be easier or more difficult just substitute a smaller or larger die as appropriate. Example: an easier random result would be challenge level -1D6+1D4 added to APL (average result would be APL-1). Tougher encounter? -1D4+1D6 generates APL+1 on average. Then, just work out a range of encounters but modify the # of foes by the actual expected toughness.

That said....the GMG advises an occasional deadly or impossible encounter in the mix for hexploration, but my suggestion is to broadcast in some means how lethal the encounter is (whether it's the PCs seeing a higher level beast cleave a cow or deer in two in one hit, a bloodied paladin telling them to flee, or even just an easy DC intuition roll on Perception or Nature telling them this is a certain death situation.) My players have a habit of sticking around and fighting until they suddenly realize they bit off more than they can chew, so putting some tells in to your encounter which give them fair warning is a noble thing to do as the GM. Likewise, the GM in PF2E needs to be nice and include at least as many easy encounters for the group to tread on.....such design flies in the face of conventional hexploration wisdom I suppose, but you are the one designing the charts so you have control over this stuff, and I advise just baking it in, providing for a nice fair range of difficulty from trivial to deadly.

Here's a sample chart, designed for a region that a group of level 1-5 can explore with some mix of risk and adventure, skewed slighty toward the easier end:

Wilderness Encounters:

Determine Chart Level by rolling +1D4-1D6+APL (range from APL-3 to APL +5)

CL 1 or Less: 1D8

1- orc brutes (2D4)

2- kobold warriors (1D8)

3- giant centipedes (1D6)

4 - eagles (1D3-1)

5- Badgers (1D6)

6- Cave Scorpions (1D8)

7- Giant Solifugid (1D4)

8- Sylph Sneak (1D2) plus Dust Mephits (1D3)

CL 2-3: 1D6

1- orc brutes (2D4) plus orc warrior (1D2)

2- lizardfolk scout (1D2), lizardfolk defender (1D4)

3- wargs (1D4), orc brutes (1D6)

4- skeletal champion (1), skeletal guard (2D4)

5- Black Bear (1)

6- Shocker Lizards (1D3)

CL 4-5: 1D6

1- giant scorpions (1D4)

2- tiefling adept (1), orc warriors (1D4), orc brutes (1D6)

3- Green Hag (1), wererats (1D4)

4- Green Hag coven (3)

5 - Redcaps (2)

6-  Trolls (1D3)

CL 6-7: 1D4

1 - living landslide (1D2+1)

2- Ettins (1D2)

3- Hydra (1)

4- Medusa (1) plus animated statues (1D3)

CL 8: 1D3

1- Desert Drake (1D2)

2- Stone Giants (1)

3- Young Green Dragon (1)

Written as it, this gives a spread on chance of encounters like this:

Party APL 1: will have a chance to roll from CL1 or less chart (from APL-3 to APL+0) to CL 4 (APL +3). An APL+3 encounter might be deadly (two Redcaps of CL 5 against a party of level 1s is just cruel).

Party APL 2: Can encounter anything from CL 1 to CL 5 on the charts, with an average chart roll being on the CL 2.

Party APL 3: Can encounter from CL 1-6, with an average roll being CL 3. APL 4 can encounter CR 1-7, etc.

The list caps out at CL8+, but the GM can of course start adding new charts if desired. The net result of these charts is you have the potential for trivial (non threatening) encounters mixed with a risk of a really deadly, even impossible encounter. That same encounter, once escaped, can later be something the group tackles at a higher level. 

You might wonder how I arrived at the # appearing....pure GM intuition, take them with as much salt grains as needed.

Anyway...random thoughts!

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Nostalgia Creep - Or, How D&D 3rd Edition Suddenly Became Nostalgia For Me

 I'd mentioned during a new year's post that I had some designs on revisiting Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition that I'd revisit in a future post. This is not the first time I've felt this way, but most definitely it's the first time I've decided to actively engage with it. The last time I got genuinely interested in a return to D&D 3rd was during the rise of 4th edition D&D, but before Pathfinder had manifested. Needless to say, Pathfinder ended up being a suitable substitution and derailed me for a good long while. With that might wonder why 3rd edition D&D and not just more Pathfinder? Or, for that matter, why not AD&D 1E or 2E? 

Well, this is a complex question. But as I have thought a bit about my returning interest, I realize the convoluted logic path goes something like this: D&D 3rd edition has a lot of good memories for me. I had some bad memories, too, but I realize in retrospect that the good times gaming came from the game groups that were synergetic and had fun without caveat, and the bad memories were from the groups where there was a bad synergy or maybe some literal bad actors (players who mostly liked griping about the game). In time it made me enjoy 3rd edition I bet it did for many. But I can't deny that some of my best days gaming were from around 2000 to 2006 during which I used D&D 3/3.5 as my go-to gaming engine for D&D, and had consistently great groups of players, many long time friends, who were all into enjoying the game in the same general way. 

So, to put it another way, some of the nostalgia I know I'm feeling is for that particular era of gaming in my life. But....and this is a big, important but....I've got a couple really amazing groups these days that are all now long time old friends and we have a really good synergy, too. So the idea of introducing my current group to "classic" D&D 3.5 doesn't seem so crazy; for many of them they started with the rise of Pathfinder, D&D 4E or D&D 5E and have never actually experienced a game of original D&D 3E.

There were some problems back in the day. D&D 3.5 had an overwhelming number of splatbooks for it's time, though I find it ironic that today, when you look at the core rules, it contains as much (or more) content than all of the D&D 5E core books and accessories combined. Even better, with the advantage of hindsight the sum total of all 3rd edition D20 content has a very precise period of closure. Sure, books continued to churn for Pathfinder, but as anyone immersed in the vagaries of edition mechanics knows, Pathfinder 1E has a lot of assumptions in design that make it difficult to precisely treat as retro-compatible. A gamer could readily be forgiven for seeing the PF1E era as the start of something new and the proper close of the D&D 3.5 era, in other words.

Anyway.....long story short, I am having fun with what I realize is another genuine (and unexpected) moment of nostalgia. The advantage here is I recall my issues with the game, and realize that a nostalgic return to 3.5 will avoid the bulk of those issues, chiefly due to the fact that it's now a closed loop as games go....all of its content is out and its cycle of life as a publishing machine is done; I can pick and choose from the content out there with a great deal more discretion than I once might have, and I can studiously avoid those supplements that I disliked (example: I was not a fan of the Book of Nine Swords, Incarnum, etc....precursors to the shift to 4E design ethos). Likewise, my players are long time friends and cohorts, and bring to the table a wealth of commonality rather than the sorts of players that once pervaded the hobby with 3rd edition, in which min/maxing design was considered the overwhelming motivation in character generation (as opposed to rolling something fun and interesting for the story). 

I don't know if this will be a long term or short term venture....I do think it will be fun to revisit if only so I can both lampshade the things once part of D&D that led to the modern iterations of the game, and likewise contrast that with the design elements of modern games which are maybe less satisfying (such as D&D 5E's reduction of damage values to "it's all hit points" and general ease of risk, or Pathfinder 2E's amazingly double-edged precision in difficulty ranges).

Either way.....if my group opts in to try it out, I'll provide more updates!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Odd Synergies - Pathfinder Savage Worlds and Other Fusions

 A comment on the earlier post I made about the Pathfinderized Savage Worlds mashup currently on Kickstarter got me to thinking: this actually happens more often than we realize in the RPG hobby, in which one game blends in some fashion with another game to produce an interesting new hybrid or take on the setting or rules as a result. Ignoring licensed IPs which tend to jump around a lot out of necessity, we can see some other examples of this over the years with just a brief view in the wayback machine,  including some noteworthy gems:

GURPS Traveller - wedding the "reality based" verisimilitude and deep skill system of GURPS with a variation on the Traveller Imperium in which the canonical events of Megatraveller and Traveller: The New Era never happened. While Traveller's mechanics are a mainstay today, with Mongoose's Traveller 2E being a close match in spirit of design and intent to the Classic Traveller of 1st edition, at the time GURPS Traveller came out it was the closest anyone could get to a "patch" on a system that had experienced a significant mechanical upheaval in the TNE edition along with a setting upheaval of equivalent contention in the game universe.

Fuzion - One has to dig back a ways to remember this, but there was a time when Hero System and R. Talsorian Games got in to some sort of strange and unholy union, and the result was the Fuzion game system. This is a particularly interesting one, because it materialized as an edition of Champions and then it's own generic system in a slim book that works quite well as a complex but hyper-condensed generic rulebook. The system was an integration of RTG's Interlock system which spawned out of Cyberpunk 2020 and Mekton with Hero System 4th, and the result was...a good think in and of itself, though maybe not ideal for, say, Cyberpunk on its own or Champions/Hero 4th on its own.

Savage Worlds Rifts - That they even scored this crossover was significant, as Palladium has traditionally been very restrictive in its game licensing (which until this deal was all but nonexistent). I'm not a particularly big fan...mostly because I don't like Rifts as a setting all that much (I have played it, just not run it), but this is a case where I think many could argue that it gained a great deal in moving to a more coherent and modern rules system, though it also lost a bit in the unique style of black and white art characteristic of Palladium book designs. Still, Pinnacle does its own art style exceedingly well and I think all fans of both games won out here.

D6 System - What started as the Star Wars RPG of the 80's and early 90's eventually was decoupled from its original IP and developed over time into the mechanical basis for many other games, and eventually even was turned in to a OGL ruleset, allowing it to continue on in to perpetuity in various incarnations. The key detail here, though, is that a set of rules specifically designed with Star Wars in mind turned out to be excellent general mechanics for a wide array of genres and settings for which it was never originally intended.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy - Yes, GURPS does this sort of thing, a lot. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is an excellent example of how genre emulation of "D&D as a genre" is a solid thing that exists, now. People don't play Tolkienesque fantasy anymore....they play D&Desque fantasy these days. Gone are all Heartbreakers, long live the Heartbreakers, I guess.

But Back to the Pathfinder/Savage Worlds Mashup!

Now, on Pathfinder with Savage Worlds, its worth noting that nothing about the design and focus of the new Kickstarter necessarily required the Pathfinder license (other than the Golarian setting content and Rise of the Runelords modules). What the licensing appears to do is give us a tailor-made rulebook using Savage Worlds rules that defines how to do things like Pathfinder-like classes in Savage Worlds, a bestiary of distinctly Pathfinder monsters, and a spell system that will function like Savage Worlds but look like a Pathfinder (and therefore D&D) spell system. 

If you are coming at this from the Pathfinder side of the equation it may seem rather odd; fans of Pathfinder (both 1E and 2E) are honestly tethered to the game system for its actual mechanical elements, and not just it's D&D etymology. If you play Pathfinder for its mechanical style, why would Savage Worlds be a good fit? What is the point?

A Savage Worlds gamer can tell you why easily. When you look at Savage Worlds you have an efficient multi-genre system, but like most multigenre systems it does everything reasonably well on a broad scale but nothing in depth unless you have additional content to expand upon. Some genres have a lot of content for them right now: Savage Worlds has science fiction covered rather thoroughly, and arguably its a de facto system for pulp gaming in whatever form you want. But fantasy has been a bit all over the place, rather oddly. More significantly....dungeon fantasy has been a bit lacking in the Savage Worlds vein.

When you look at the trappings of Dungeon Fantasy it is extremely common to see sourcebooks pop up on Drivethrurpg and online for free trying to create various mods and settings for Savage Worlds that let you run it like it's some sort of spiritual successor to different editions of D&D. When you're used to playing just D&D or Pathfinder this may not seem so obvious, but those rule systems and the implied settings lead to very specific styles of world design, campaign design and game play. If you lack the specific tools to recreate those environments, but have a set of rules you think would handle it well (as Savage Worlds can), then the desire to pull it off is intense, and the tons of fan attempts and 3PP publications trying for this goal demonstrate a real market of some sort for the fans of SWADE and its prior editions.

Given that so many other publishers and fans have tried this, though, a generic but distinctly "D&D" edition of Savage Worlds wouldn't really attract a lot of attention from the crowd if you don't have a gimmick. And as I see it, it's a pretty amazing gimmick to say, "Hey, you know Pathfinder, the only other game aside from D&D to pull off what D&D did, and provide the level of content that we expect from actual D&D? Well now it's also a Savage Worlds thing." That's what this Kickstarter is's promising a full package, a version of Savage Worlds that doesn't feel like one man's take on his version of OSR or D&D or fantasy, that doesn't have the foibles and art limitations of a low budget 3PP, and that in fact has all the structural and design qualities of a Paizo product as well as its art resources and specific design simulate a Pathfinder like experience for a crowd that actually does want that whole "thing," but maybe doesn't specifically want the D20 system elements that make it difficult to appreciate.

There is a notion running around in some forums, however, that presents a line of thought like this: maybe Paizo is licensing this out to see if maybe they can pick up some steam on product without a lot of risk. This could be happening because they like the idea, or it could be a test resulting from lower sales performance on Pathfinder 2nd Edition. This is a lot of conjecture and I haven't seen anything that could support the claims, but it's an interesting thought. 

Paizo's crew have been more than willing to experiment in the past with licensing, sometimes with disastrous results (Goblinwork's MMORPG) and sometimes with much better results (Pathfinder: Kingmaker CRPG). Licensing this out to a Savage Worlds product seems like a bit of a tame bet. Those same forums raise questions about why Paizo doesn't just start publishing their Adventure Paths in 5E format....and while that could be a valid survival strategy, I think Paizo is aware that their long term survival odds are better if they grow their own IP rather than cater to WotC's. But a deal with Shane Hensley? This seems both safe and filled with some interesting growth potential. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Metamorphosis Alpha Vs. Gamma World - A Lesson in What Creator Ownership Can Do

As part of my recent 50th birthday (wooooo lucky me) I ordered all of the Metamorphosis Alpha stuff on Goodman Games' webstore. This includes a deluxe edition for the aging eyes of the special edition rulebook (still waiting for that to arrive) along with a glorious boxed set for Epsilon City and a medley of interesting mini modules and rules plug ins that were all part of the Kickstarter a few years back.

Unlike Gamma World, the ownership of Metamorphosis Alpha, the world's first SF RPG back in 1976, returned to or was retained by it's creator, James, M. Ward. Over the years Ward has attempted various reboots and reprints of the product line, with the last "official" product from TSR being the Amazing Engine powered Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega, which was also coincidentally the last version of the game I ran. 

Ward's savvy as a businessman to retain the rights to his creation (and TSR's enigmatic failure to go draconian....I guess it was early TSR, so they hadn't yet hit full draconian levels yet) worked out well, in the long run. Although the products of Metamorphosis Alpha have at times been either flawed, niche or hard to find, it's remained its own tiny cottage industry of the OSR before anyone had even coined the term, a game eagerly sought out by those in the know, even if we were few.

Gamma World, by contrast, remained TSR's and then WotC's red headed step child for most of its publishing existence, eventually being handed off under license to White Wolf in the early 00's after being ignominiously morphed into an Alternity product, a magazine back article, and eventually a 4th edition D&D-powered beer & pretzels game where the goal was to make the version of Gamma World that reflected the zeitgeist of design for the time. Unfortunately, even for the first four editions of Gamma World, it has more or less been "the other game system," generally written as closely as possible with D&D compatibility in mind.

Even more interesting is how with each revision Gamma World's underlying thematics changed, sometimes ever so slightly (3rd and 4th editions, laboring under the love of Mad Max tried to get a bit more serious), then more profoundly as we had a brief epoch in SF gaming in which the idea of irradiated mutants being fun was overcast by the need to make it Oh So Serious (White Wolf's D20 edition), and in turn seeing the clock not only reset but break completely with the 4E-powered Gamma World which somehow managed to bring back the zanniness while still refusing to directly acknowledge the bleak but gonzo future of the earlier editions, in favor of something more akin to a hyper-charged anime cartoon's logic as if that was somehow better. Maybe it was? 

The point though is that Gamma World, with each iteration, was forced to change to a combination of external pressures: what edition of D&D was floating around at the moment, what the feeling on gonzo post-apocalyptic science fantasy was at that moment, what the publisher thought they needed the product to do and what marketing thought would sell. Gamma World was tugged in a lot of directions.

Moreover, Gamma World now lingers as an unevolved license in WotC/Hasbro's repertoire, not quite famous enough to be considered for revival, and too different from other D&D properties to be revived in the narrow schedule and hyper-aware marketing driven focus of D&D 5th edition. Sure, it is possible Gamma World could be an amazing product with an 8th edition of the game based on D&D 5E, but to do that WotC would have to have confidence it would sell, and even more confidence it would not anger the fans (and the concerned press that aren't really fans but need outrage clicks).

Metamorphosis Alpha, on the other hand, has none of those worries and effectively managed to Kickstart its way to a reprint of the original in all its glory with a metric ton of welcome support. As recently as this last month it's even released a new module, Doom on the Warden, which acts as a grand "Part II" to the Warden's long journey through space. As a setting and product it manages to retain its own identity and its own consistency, and even the unusual deviations (such as the Amazing Engine edition or Signal Fire Studios' odd duck) are remarkably faithful in intent and design. 

Not only is Metamorphosis Alpha still available and in print to play in its original form from 1976, but its later iterations remain closely faithful to the rules and vision of the original, and this consistency means that while someone who played Gamma World over the years might experiences some version of the game, it may not be terribly close to the experience someone else had with a different edition in a different era. But for MA gamers? Very like the differences in their gaming experiences are due to the quirks of the madman--er, GM behind the screen.

Sometimes a creator doesn't know where to go or what to do with the thing which he or she created, but as often as not, they do. James Ward's achievement with Metamorphosis Alpha is 45 years old this year, and I think his dedication to his creation is both admirable and fruitful. There are even a series of fiction anthologies dedicated to the travails of the denizens on Starship Warden (search Amazon!) and all of it retains a core vision that has stood the test of time. So we have an example of a franchise done right by its creator, and in sharp contrast to the one that was left behind. 

With any luck, maybe in some smoke-filled back room somewhere Goodman Games is hammering out a deal with WotC to do a "Reincarnated" edition of classic Gamma World, and maybe James Ward will get a chance to step in on it. One can only imagine how great a return to the clarity of the original vision would be with Gamma World. Fingers crossed....I wish I had insider info on this, but alas I only have a firm suggestion to those who are keeping the golden age of RPGs alive: the original Gamma World would be a great game to get the licensing for, to bring it back the way the Metamorphosis Alpha and the D&D Reincarnated modules have done. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Pathfinder: Savage Worlds Edition

This is a thing, a very exciting thing:

First off, the adventure path Rise of the Runelords is widely regarded as one of the better overall D20-based adventure series, it fits a niche in 3PP for D&D (or Pathfinder in this case) that is reserved for classics in D&D like Against the Giants and Tomb of Horrors.

Second, this project is codifying a well defined focused fantasy ruleset that lets you do very specific Pathfinder/D&D style fantasy in Savage Worlds. The flavor of these systems over the years have been a key reason I stick with them for my own game worlds; they fit the specific epic fantasy style I need for the sorts of worlds I like to run stuff for.

Now, having said that, thematically merging the style of epic Pathfinder gaming with the Fast! Furious! Fun! mechanical rulset of Savage Worlds is something every Savage Worlds gamer has tried to do over the years, and we have all noticed just how good that fit is. The problem, of course, is evident in the countless fan made modules and 3PP supplements trying to offer up content to support really good fantasy gaming in a D&D style with a Savage Words ruleset.....lots of it, but nothing necessarily all encompassing or cohesive enough to rival the sort of direct support Paizo and WotC provide for their systems.

With this Kickstarter, it looks like at long last there will be a version of Pathfinder that would let me definitively use Savage Worlds to run the fantasy worlds I normally lean on Pathfinder (or D&D) for. This is a huge deal, seriously....Savage Worlds is a much faster and more efficient game system than either D&D or PF, and it's a system that can accomplish this sort of gaming but without the mechanical baggage that the D20 systems come with. 

So yeah...color me excited, and I'm in at the $300 level! This is going to be great.

Day 19: Ever Morphing Gaming Plans

 It's amazing that 19 days have passed since 2020 ended already, and my last post is already essentially null and void. 

To wit: Saturday migrated immediately to Cypher System set in Realms of Chirak and using Godforsaken as a primary reference; this after spontaneously deciding I was just not interested in any more D&D 5E for a while.

On Wednesday, I burned out on Starfinder one session in to the new year (due to lack of time to prep for a pre-published module) and we moved back to Pathfinder 2E for a bit, which is a system (with my own setting I am using) that comes much more naturally.

Meanwhile, I am plotting how to do Traveller or M-Space again soon, undecided on which. GURPS Egypt remains lurking in the not too distant future but I have to decide how I am going to do it....I have copious ideas and approaches, but I must find the one which will best suit my needs and that of the group's.

As for the rest of 2021.....who knows! I'm looking forward to thinking hard about sticking close to what I know will cater to the sorts of games I am most interested in running, that's for sure. I also think that, despite my general interest in collecting, that I could afford to cut back on some of the module material I buy....I never use it, and when I do, I eventually get bored with it, so why buy it? Life is short (and getting ever shorter, I think as 50 looms near), better to focus on stuff I will actually use and benefit from.

Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 Gaming Plans

 For 2020 my gaming plans went through hoops of fire as the pandemic changed how my game tables worked. The FLGs where we all met could no longer host (and still can't under current lockdown rules), and was shut down for lengthy periods. The gamers in my group ranged in age from 30 to 60+ and enough of us fit the "older, with complications" category to not want to risk casual exposure for gaming. 

Early on, like the week my state (New Mexico) shut down everything back in March/April I researched online virtual tabletop (VTT) options and settled on Roll20 as a primary venue, with Astral as my backup. 

For Astral I have so far only interfaced with it as a player. Onebookshelf graciously offered a one year premium subscription to publishers on I think to stimulate us all to produce content that was compatible with Astral, which has a fairly limited content set compared to Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds. So far my experience with Astral has been Call of Cthulhu-centric, and it handles the game just fine. Quirks include: lack of voice support, an odd way of delivering handouts to PCs, and a background music option that can be fun and annoying at the same time.

For Roll20 I have invested heavily, which means I'm pretty well committed, so good thing I enjoy using it for the most part. I feel it could handle "spontaneous" content a bit better (trying to type in or click to set up complicated dice rolls is annoying in all of these systems so far) but it's approach for me as a GM works well. The problem with Roll20 is that it handles games for which it has some level of support generally quite well, but if no one has bothered to build content in the Roll20 charactermancer or the publisher hasn't arranged to set up purchasable support in the shop for its ruleset then the only games you can run without that support are those for which you will find the rules/mechanics to handle adequately on the baseline support of Roll20. As an example, I ran Cypher System and Call of Cthulhu using just the available character sheet from their free Quickstart product and otherwise used my physical rulebooks for the campaign I ran just fine....and while even the free level of support is enough to run, say, D&D 5E easily in Roll20, I think I'm hesitant to run Savage Worlds without some compendium data, and I wouldn't even bother with Traveller right now, which appears to have no support for the modern edition of the game on Roll20 at all (that I can find).

I ruled out Fantasy Grounds for one reason: cost. Too much cost, unfortunately. After two years of paying for Roll20 I might have spent as much on it as I would just getting the foundation necessary on Fantasy Grounds, but I'm kinda hoping we're back to physical tabletops by 2022 you know? Gotta dream!

So this is a long way of saying: what I plan to run for 2021 is driven by what I can manage to run in either Roll20 or Astral Tabletop. Right now, that list is pretty tightly defined to:

D&D 5E

Pathfinder 2nd Edition


Cypher System (even though no rulesets are available, the cards all are, and the charactermancer sheet works great)

Call of Cthulhu

I also have Scum & Villany RPG's setup on Roll20, may try to run that at some point.

I can readily run (thanks to available compendiums, when I am willing to buy them if I think they would be helpful):

Alien RPG

Esper Genesis (the core rules just released as a compendium)

Warhammer Fantasy

Zweihander (the core player rules are free!)

So yeah, that's essentially "what I can run" without taking precious free time to try and learn to code in the charactermancer. a nutshell, these are the games I have on the table, so to speak, for Roll20 gaming this year.

Now for Astral Tabletop, aside from the ongoing games in which I am a player I might well use it this year as a GM to try one of these games that I am interested in: Cyberpunk Red, Sword Chronicles (more on that one in a future post!) and maybe GURPS. I have a campaign for GURPS set in ancient Egypt I've been working on for months now, and I really want to run more GURPS this year, it's a game system that fits my current mood for gaming well these days. All I need is a group of like-minded players who find an historically accurate campaign in the late bronze age to be tantalizing and I'm set!

So, for 2021 so far, my plans look like this:

Saturday Group: this is the "long haul" group that can remain focused and benefits from a GM who is not frayed from midweek work stress. As such, it tends to be better at long term campaign commitments.

1. Get the group through their current D&D 5E campaign. I am expecting they will like to grow it to a logical conclusion that ends around level 10-12, but we'll see. 

2. Get the group back to a new Pathfinder 2E campaign as soon as possible and never look back at D&D again.

3. Alternatively, get at least a 10-20 session Cypher System campaign using Godforsaken to run Realms of Chirak going as soon as feasible.

4. Propose Esper Genesis at some point.

Wednesday Group: this is the group with more "stressors," including a GM who is harried and overworked midweek but liked having the midweek game because it sometimes helps me decompress (but sometimes work won't let me and sessions are missed). It has at least one player who can only attend every other week, but we've stopped trying to run alternating campaigns for my own sanity and he instead makes characters which can have an excuse for their lack of presence every other session. Because it is hard to focus on this week, I tend to prefer running shorter and sometimes more experimental campaigns on Wednesday nights. I frequently fantasize about someone else running on this night, but know I'd probably not want to play if it isn't GURPS or Call of Cthulhu (the only two systems I seem to enjoy as a player). For this night the plan is:

1. Run Starfinder's Fly Free or Die adventure path to its natural conclusion. This will last until at least June I predict. By running a programmed module series I have taken some of the burden off my shoulders.

2. Look at what I can run after that that fits the same "easy to prep" approach I've got right now. Probably will run a Call of Cthulhu campaign after the Starfinder adventure path concludes. Maybe the Alien RPG? A possibility!

My Wishlist....things I'd still like to do but don't know where they fit in, include:

GURPS Egypt campaign

A Numenera Campaign

A nostalgic revisitation of D&D 3rd edition (don't ask; I'll elaborate in a future blog post)

So...we'll see what time and the unique nature of VTT permit for 2021! Can't wait to revisit this post in twelve months.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Postmortem on my 2020 Gaming Plans

 Back at the beginning of the year I outlined my expected gaming plans for 2020. How did this turn out? Given that Around March-April all gaming for my household suddenly became an online affair, that was definitely an unexpected turn of events.

Well....I predicted with no real effort that Pathfinder 2E and Cypher System would remain go-to games. I did indeed complete a level 1-20 campaign around August of this year in PF2E, and also ran approximately three smaller campaigns, one of which is still ongoing but on hold for the moment. For Cypher System I had a couple small campaigns, one of which paused when frustration over the RNG in Roll20 to cause near constant failure for the players (a thing to ponder as to why) led to my deciding to switch to systems where the probabilities were more "baked in" to the game system (e.g. did not require measuring odds and spending points to influence those odds).

I mentioned Forbidden Lands RPG, which I was quite keen on having picked it up and read through it, but in the end it's proven to be a nonstarter (so far) for several reasons, though the actual module content published for it has proven to be a bounty of useful ideas in other games. 

I also mentioned Alien RPG, which I had just snagged. My only real accomplishment with this system in 2020 was to read through it thoroughly and admire it as a fan of the franchise, but I haven't found the energy to taunt my players with it, yet.....on the plus side, it now has Roll20 support, so it is distinctly possible I will get that chance in 2021.

On Starfinder, I am pleased to say that toward the end of the year I finally got back to this, and have been running the latest Adventure Path from Paizo as the basis for the new campaign. It's proving to be fun and actually kind of instructional...I haven't run any published modules from Paizo in at least ten years, and while the new module series (Fly Free or Die) has some quirks, it's got the right sort of framework on which to drape my style and my players' interests.

Of the last two games I talked about, Cyberpunk Red released quite late in the year so I am still absorbing it in all its glory; it might merit a "game of the year" award but I won't know until I can find the time to--you know--play it. And for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, I might have got this going but for the pandemic, though late in the year some card support released on Roll20, but still no rulebook support in the compendium, unfortunately.

Of the pick-up-and-play games, the only ones that I gave attention to were White Star and Cepheus Light. Both got some one shots (White Star was intended to go for longer), but ultimately I realized something strange and dark about 2020: I just wasn't in the mood for ultra-lite systems. I don't know if this is just a side effect of being nearly 50 and having a certain sort of "style" to my play that expects a bit more crunch, or if it's a reflection of the fact that I picked two systems to run which just didn't end up cutting it for various reasons. Cepheus Light did not feel like it offered something the full Traveller experience didn't already do better, and White Star felt too much like a derivative pastiche this time, a monument to other better things, that I just felt utterly deflated when I realized I wasn't enjoying it.

 About the most fun I did have was creating an elaborate 1st edition Gamma World game for Roll20, in which I ported everything over, making my own bestiary and rules compendium in the process. I haven't as yet had a chance to run it, probably because I want to preserve the nostalgia of the experience and not expose it to the raw reality of my contemporary preferences, but it was a lot of fun to tinker with the experiment. Truth is, when I do get around to running some more post-apocalyptic stuff, it will be most likely with either GURPS or Mutant Crawl Classics. 

The other "surprise" of 2020 was that after the Pathfinder 2E mega campaign ended I decided at first to run Cypher System, but with a 4-8 session "break" using D&D 5E first. That turned into a longer run than expected as we decided to wait for Godforsaken to come out, and as of now the D&D 5E campaign has taken legs and appears to be one for the long haul right now.  

Oh! Almost forgot: I managed to run another Call of Cthulhu short campaign this year, and have been an actual player (yes! a player!) in an ongoing CoC game set in the 1920's run online by an old friend of mine from Seattle. In short: awesome. I would say my Cthulhu stuff this year is #2 in fond gaming experiences right behind the Pathfinder 2E mega campaign, which was easily one of the best campaigns I've run in the last two decades.

As for 2021's plans.....I'll save that for a future column next year!