Monday, June 20, 2022

Getting to Observe Gaming from the Other Side of the Table

 Playing a lot more recently has afforded me a chance to think about what it is that I have been enjoying (and not enjoying) out of RPGs recently, with the added advantage of feeling less pressure to prep material for games ongoing. As of right now, I am many sessions in to a Gaslight era Call of Cthulhu 7E campaign, three sessions in to a Pathfinder 2E campaign, and I have just wrapped a D&D 5E campaign (which will eventually return), with tentative plans to start a Pathfinder for Savage Worlds campaign to try it out when I return from summer vacation. Meanwhile Mothership is there, and we play it when all parties can find themselves in the right moment to set the time aside....but that's really tough, it turns out, to do more than once a month.

So here's what I've noticed so far:

First and most important, as a player I can be picky, or at least I used to be, but these days I am just enjoying not having to drive the game forward so am happy to play the role, regardless of the game subject. So while I might have some notions of what I'd like to play (and I will be straight up on this, my player interests are still trapped in the early nineties in terms of what sort of game experience would make me happy) I am at this point just happy to be playing so the scenarios in action are good enough. Likewise, I applaud my cohorts who are currently GMing, as I feel their pain, acutely.

Now, I love Call of Cthulhu as both player and Keeper, so I have no issues there. We did experiment with Pulp Cthulhu for a time (not my fave), but its since been largely redacted as I think the Keeper realized it didn't really mesh so well as one might like. Pulp Cthulhu exists, and there are no doubt strong advocates for it, but I felt like playing with the Pulp rules was putting the game on "cheat" mode a bit and am happy to see it dialed back to more normal Cthulhu rules these days.

Lesson learned: I do like it when the game is tougher and expects you to know that being careful is important.

Now, in three sessions of Pathfinder 2E I have simultaneously come to appreciate that PF2E was most definitely written by game designers who wanted to both make the GM's life easier and put uppity players in their place. They also were obsessed with balance, to some weird degrees. And the action point feels like its a malevolent social experiment designed to tempt players to poke fate and learn the hard way that second and third iterative attacks, at least in PF2E, are borderline traps, quick pathways to failure. 

It's all kind of interesting to see this not from the angle of the GM, for whom I will argue the mechanical aspects of PF2E are actually simpler than the player facing mechanics, but to really feel it hammered home that the game weighs odds against the players every step of the way. We're even using a published Pathfinder adventure path, and the GM is very by the book, so I know he's running the scenarios exactly as presented. It's brutal, and part of my likes it, but another part of me realizes that Pathfinder 2E, from both sides of the screen, has some profound flaws in design. 

I have already decided that while I will continue to play PF2E, no problem, I am done with it as a GM (well, in theory)....I just think there are so many other, better game systems out there that fit my own style and tastes better. I thought PF2E would cut it, but over time my love of it has soured badly, I guess.

With no immediate games that I need to plan for in the future (except for Savage Pathfinder which is in the can and waiting for when I am ready to run it), I have had ample time to think about what I really want to do with the many game books I have purely for my own amusement. So far, there has been one clear, out-of-the-park winner: GURPS. I've been designing stuff for a hypothetical GURPS Space campaign, filling out NPCs and pregens for my planned GURPS Egypt campaign, finally taking a serious look at what I could do with Dungeon Fantasy RPG, and reading through the many, many PDFs of GURPS I have acquired over the years. 

I'm also still intrigued to do more with D&D 3.5 down the road, but when and where I have no idea. Both D&D 3.5 and GURPS appear to be calling back to a sweet spot in gaming for me, a period from roughly 1992-2006* during which I ran mostly one of these two systems, only occasionally breaking out into other territories. My middle agedness is showing, I guess. 

Ultimately, to run GURPS again I need to get buy-in from my players. Some of them I can count on, others I think might see the perceived complexity of GURPS as a nightmare from which they can never escape. GURPS comes from an older era of design that assumed a level of focus and attention which I think is hard for a lot of gamers (anyone, really) to sustain today. If I run it, I am going to need to do all the heavy lifting at first, including providing lots of pregens, or restrict them to GURPS Lite for a while. We'll see.

Still, we may be able to play some games on our lengthy vacation that is about to start, and I am debating dragging GURPS along for personal fun, and Savage Worlds along because it will be easy to teach to the family members (mostly kids along with my son). Savage Worlds has a wonderful simplicity to it, and its inherent physicality with the card decks, bennie chips, dice as stats and so forth make it a fun game to teach kids. But who knows....usually there's never any actual time on these summer vacations to game (its just me deluding myself) so I should really just pack a handful of things I think I might actually find time to read. We shall see.

*For a lot of that time it was still AD&D 2E, but it was the AD&D 2E with tons of bloated splatbooks and the "2.5" rulebooks, all of which desperately made us crave a cleaned up, newer ruleset, which of course WotC eventually graced us with. And for 2000-2003ish it was the 3.0 version of those rules, which I loved dearly even if I can't go back to them after the 3.5 fixed so much.

SECOND NOTE: If you look at my post prior to this, outlining five campaign ideas, notice how while those are all fine ideas for any old campaign, they would be really cool in a GURPS campaign. Just saying.....I'm not kidding when I say I have that GURPS thing on the brain.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Campaign Suggestions - for the future

Thought I'd post this for fun....sending some brief ideas out to the group for the future planned Savage Worlds Pathfinder game. It's going to take place in an ongoing setting, which is a fantasy analog to the post-Roman collapse period of Europe, but with some key changes to mix it up, such as an analog for Egypt's Middle Kingdoms Bronze Age Dynasties still existing in some form (Khafra) even as a post Sassanid era "evil sword & sorcery kingdom" arises to threaten them (Hepaste); a world where post-classical "not Greece" was brutalized by the empire, and so on and so forth. I will have to post more on this setting some time, it's grown a lot in the last two years.

THE EDGE OF CIVILISATION:  You are all part of a small local tribe in northern Selentar near Tymorath's Wall, beyond which lies the threat of the Dendric Wilderness. The theme would be life in a very "celtic" style society on the frontier, as far away from civilization as one can get.
Themes: community issues, oppressive wilderness, Dendric threat, foreigners interposing, here there be monsters

BUILDING A MERCHANT EMPIRE: You are all more cultured members of a civilized region, such as the old imperial capitol of Drautha or one of the Eormic cities of the mainland; thematically you will all have a house affiliation and be tied in to expanding on trade and mercantile interests for the family.
Themes: building the house, sailing to build trade relations, finding new markets, pirates, competition

THE PROTECTION OF THE PHARAOH:  You are artisans, laborers, and soldiers in the distant lands of Khafra, working to the benefit of your regent who protects the kingdom from northern barbarians,, who faces difficult times in the southern River Kingdom as the warlords of Hepaste grow impertinent and refuse to pay tribute, forcing you as a group to deal with a turbulent potential war.
Themes: loyalty to Pharaoh, warfare, scouting, seeking allies, assassination (both thwarting and instigating), seeking out lost magic to help the cause

THE FORGING OF THE SILK ROAD:  You are members of an eastern city in Nauricam. You are part of a trading house seeking to forge a trade route to the west now that the years have shed away all remnants of the Empire, which once sought to conquer Nauricam as the last hold-out to its reign. You could also be seeking to explore the undisovered eastern lands. 
Themes: travel, bandits, diplomatic relations with remote cities and civilizations, discovery of unknown wonders and new resources along the way, cultural conflicts

RECOVERING YOUR LOST CULTURE:  You are all from a city in Satra, where you are rebuilding government and life post-Empire, seeking to restore the old ways by digging into the ruins of old to learn of the lost gods so effectively suppressed by the Ironvast Empire for centuries. You are scavengers of lore and seekers of lost wisdom, employed by wealthy patricians who wish to recover Satra's buried history.
Themes: A deeply oppressed society is freed, and seeks to recover its lost heritage and beliefs; tombs and temples to explore, old imperial families with stolen artifacts to find and repatriate from, building new monuments to old gods, dealing with foreigners who oppose this reclamation of lost knowledge

Curse of the Crimson Throne and Advanced Player's Guide coming to Pathfinder for Savage Worlds

 I haven't found a direct page to link to, but in my email newsletter from Pinnacle Entertainment they indicated that a new Kickstarter is coming for the Savage Worlds edition of Pathfinder, and its a doozy, with the following items to be included in this new Kickstarter (copy/pasted from the email):

  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Advanced Player’s Guide
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne – Book 1
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne – Book 2
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne – Book 3
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne – Book 4
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne – Book 5
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne – Book 6
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Guide to Korvosa
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Crimson Throne Handouts
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Harrow Deck
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Crimson Throne Adversary Cards Set
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Archetype Set 3
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Archetype Set 4
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Curse of the Crimson Throne Poster Map
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Ally and Adversary Cards Set 2
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds: Ally and Adversary Cards Set 3
  • Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds Advanced Power Cards

That's a lot of Pathfinder goodness, and gives me keen hopes that Pathfinder for Savage Worlds isn't just a useful book set for the SWADE rules, but will have viable legs in its own right as a "D&Desque" system that provides a distinctly alternative ruleset to the now very long in the tooth legacy of D20 era RPGs.

The Advanced Player's Guide in particular will include inquisitors, witches, oracles, alchemists, cavaliers and summoners as new edge classes (SWPF treats classes as uniquely packaged starting edges). That's going to greatly expand the available flavors to the system. Now fingers crossed they will eventually include a Savaged up Bestiary 2!

Friday, June 3, 2022

Mothership - Ships of Madness

 So yes, last night's game was a load of fun. I am doing something a bit unorthodox (but I have used this style before), in which the story is told from two opposing angles, and the players are literally playing two different groups of characters. That meant, essentially, that last night's session as really two two-hour long sessions, one for each group.

When I last did this in D&D, it was with the knowledge neither group was going to meet; the story just got to play out from two different angles and regions of the game. But this scenario is assuming both groups are in close proximity and may eventually meet. I am not a huge fan of saddling the players with multiple PCs, however, so the expectation is that the two groups will have potentially high attrition by the time they converge, and then the players can see who survives. Its almost like a more ornate version of the DCC style funnel crawl. expected, last night was a great game, and I appreciate Mothership as it reminds me every time that I am indeed deeply invested in it, and enjoy GMing, I just need to accept that it can be perfectly okay to park D&D sometimes and let that battery recharge, so to speak.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Mothership Cure-All

 Posting yesterday was mildly cathartic, let me assemble some thoughts I had otherwise not given substance to into a form I could correlate with. One thing that came out of all that, plus following the enjoyable D&D game last night, was that it's best for me to chase the muse, the thing which draws my attention. The D&D game is set in a game world I am enjoying exploring; should just do more of that (but maybe at a slower pace so I have time to catch up with the scenario as the players rip through content). More importantly...there is tonight, and Mothership!

I really have to say, Mothership is deeply cathartic for me as well. Mothership is the dark echo of a corner of the SF genre that has been with me since I first saw Alien in the theaters as a kid. Tonight's game will be a send-off of sorts (part 1 of such) for a player who must depart from our week night games due to scheduling for a while, so I figure we should make this really go out with a bang, Mothership is a perfect vessel for strongly, almost intrinsically encourages the Warden (GM) to dive deep into the most gruesome and dark corners of the horror/SF mashup and it likewise encourages the players to accept their fates and learn to enjoy it. The fact that the game, mechanically, aligns so well with my own sensibilities and expectations in game design is just a huge plus.

Anyway, after this grand finale story arc for one PC is over I'll post the grim details and scenarios. It's gonna be a horrific's an image or two that I will be using in tonight's game for certain NPC illustrations, nothing "given away" I hope....if any of the players in tonight's game read this, scrub your brains of the memory!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Building a Break into the Routine, and Looking Hard at What I Want to Run (and Play!)

 More random Deathbat musings. So one thing I have come to accept is what I have really known for years now: I am burned out on GMing games 1-3 times a week. I am also burned out on Roll20, but it does make life easier so I'll give it a pass.

One friend of mine has stepped up to start running a game in my place on Saturday night, which is great. I was running a 5E/Spelljammer sort of deal and it hammered home my issue: I was enjoying it in the moment, but dreading the time between games, having to find the time to prep and get motivated. When I am not motivated, excited for the game at hand, that to me is a clear sign of burnout. 

Locally, only a few people in my gaming circle ever GM or try their hand at it. For the vast majority of it, I end up as GM. This is at least partially my own fault, because for most of my decades of gaming I have generally preferred to be the GM as much as possible....I liked the job a great deal for so many years, and as a result I had a lot of players who also liked being players. Gamers who maybe liked to GM a lot? They found other game groups. So my selection over time leaned heavily toward 1 GM and lots of players who like being players.

Over the years, on occasion I'd feel the burnout but some player could step in and guest GM for a while, but it wasn't too often....just enough for me to get the break I needed and rekindle my enthusiasm for the process. 

But in the last few years, for various obvious reasons, I am hitting a hard wall. I want to enjoy the game as I have, but there has been fewer opportunities for guest GMing (especially in the VTT era where that requires more than the usual planning) and so I haven't gotten a break, at all. Thankfully that is changing a bit. It is also a bit harder, because I think two other things are happening that I need to consider carefully.

The first item is that I may have run so much D&D over so long a period that it's just not as engaging for me, anymore. In fact, its been easy to just show up and run a game on what borders on auto-pilot, a part of me so conditioned to run it that it is why I feel like I can have fun "in the moment" while otherwise utterly dreading the task in the time between sessions. In the old days I varied gaming a lot more than I do today. Indeed, GURPS used to be my main system, and as both GM and player I had a small but very dedicated group that was up for whatever; and that system let us do the Whatever part quite well. But in recent years....outside of Cthulhu and Cypher, its not very different, and there are a dearth of the old style of more subtle, investigative and historical/SF games I used to run going on. Some of this, admittedly, is that I have different players with different styles and expectations....and I also feel there is some merit to the suggestion that how players engage with a scenario has changed over time (possibly due to the influence of video games), but that is another blog post in its own right

The other part is best summarized, I feel, as old age. I am 51 now, and there's still years to go with every bit getting worse, but I can feel it in my bones: I am just not as energetic as I used to be. Maybe 3+ nights of gaming a week with me as GM is just no longer a thing I can do, or necessarily want to do! Maybe one night a week might be better....and maybe I need to make that a live night, just to force myself to get out of the house and not sit, for yet more hours, in front of a computer screen. So yeah, I think age has a lot to do with it. Unfortunately age gets us all, and I know some players and ex-GMs who stopped running games for much the same reason. 

So for now, solutions I have include:

1. Game fewer nights as GM, get others to take up role more often. Try being a player more, its a welcome relief to be worrying about just one character for once.

2. Look at my games, and put more time (quality) over quantity into what I really want to do; find players who are also in to it. Finish that GURPS Egypt campaign and run it. Start that Cypher Godforsaken campaign when I am good and ready. Prepare the next Cthulhu or Delta Green story arc. Do the stuff that I feel personally more invested in these days.

3. Give D&D a long, hard break. Also, its cousins and heartbreaker buddies, whatever they may be (PF2E, OSE, etc.).

Things to ponder!

EDIT: This post feels awfully doom and gloom at the moment, but I admit I am riding a fun high from running tonight's game. Still, we have a plan of sorts, and it involves Pathfinder for Savage Worlds soon.