Wednesday, May 31, 2023

From the Old Dog Learns New Tricks Dept: Going 100% PDF in a Live Game?!?!?

 It started this way: last night, as I hauled out two 30-40 lb. bags of books and campaign material, I laid it all out for the following morning so I had stuff ready for the game I run after work. I then sat down, and while perusing Drivethrurpg noticed a new compendium from Autarch for the Adventurer, Conqueror, King RPG. In looking at it I realized I had the ACKS core book and Player's Guide on my account as PDFs from many ages ago. It dawned on me that I really had no idea why I had ignored ACKS over other systems, beyond my tendency to go for physical books as a sign of official status, and had never had physical ACKS books in hand...therefore never messed with it before.

The thing is, three years of pandemic and post-pandemic existence got me quite used to using PDFs of books to prep and run games online. I am more likely to have and use the PDFs these days when running Roll20. The first time I really brought out the old tomes for actual use beyond the visceral satisfaction of reading a paper-based product was our return to live gaming a few months back. Yet, when preparing the live scenario at home I am still mostly accessing PDFs now, and only using physical books for which I have no PDF alternative.

That got me to thinking: here's ACKS, a game system I admit I have not done anything with due to the PDF-only status it holds in my collection, but it actually looks like a rather neat game (especially if you enhance it with some of the many cool supplements it has). What if I....and yes, this if crazy talk for an old Gen Xer like myself!....what if I just, kept it as a PDF collection but also tried to use it that way, too????

Madness!!!! But also....yeah. I looked at the other ACKS books I didn't have, and started shoveling print+PDF editions into the cart, and looked at the $150+ price tag to get physical copies of what I wanted. Then I noticed I could get a lot more for a mere $50 and have a very nearly complete collection of all the ACKS stuff without breaking the bank.

I have, like, 3 or 4 active current tablets that can all handle decent hi resolution copies of PDF without any speed issues. I have a very nice laptop which can do this. So....what's to prevent me from showing up with a modest bag of just the campaign stuff, GM screen, and maybe one or two main books I need, and use the iPad or laptop for the rest? Only my own hang up about physical media!

Anyway.....I am now thinking about trying this out tonight, at the game table, and my newly discovered obsession with the ACKS System may be next, to try and run a game which is 100% in my digital bookshelf. 

As a side note on ACKS: definitely a variation on old school, but I love that it uses proficiencies, and while its a class as race domain, the way ACKS does it is rather cool, with unique classes suited to the species in question (such as elven spellswords). I'll post more about that later, I imagine.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Borrowing from Film to Make Genre Bending Homage Games

 A few years ago I ran a Starfinder campaign for a bit that was genuinely fun. It was a group of four players who were all quite in sync, and a real blast. One of the elements I enjoyed was the method by which I extracted a useful Starfinder plot: I took the core elements of the movie Conan the Barbarian and put the entire thing in space. In stead of a cult of Set it was a cult to Typhon. Instead of Thulsa Doom we had a renegade vesk (lizard man) whose temple was not in some mountain range but a floating space station filled with abominable horrors and mysteries. Pilgrims would flock from across the galaxy to come here, and the vesk cultists wore white robes with yellow trim. I riffed on perhaps 70% of that movie to great effect, and the net result was a blast, as well as me getting to enjoy a plot and pacing of a film I knew well, transcribed into a sci-fantasy setting. 

That mixture of "movie-inspired plot/theme" mixed with a genre outside the scope of the source material has got me to thinking about other ways you could blend movies with unusual genre combinations. Any of this would work well in multigenre systems such as GURPS, Basic Roleplaying, Savage Worlds or Cypher System. Some examples that come to mind include:

The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) but as an historical adventure set in the West Indies or maybe on the Silk Road. A lone trader or small group who journey the world of the 16th century stumble across a caravan or remote fortress besieged by raiders, seeking an incredible treasure;

Air Force One (the one with Harrison Ford)! but its a scifi Traveller-style setting on board a starship when foreign (alien?) invaders attack to seize the emperor of man;

Blackhawk Down, but its a fantasy setting about a team of dragon or wyvern knights who find themselves trapped in enemy territory during a brutal war;

Poltergeist, but it's set in a post-apocalyptic future where the house's "incursion" is caused by the horrific aliens/nanites/mutants that live outside the complex, which is the last bastion of civilization;

The Truman Show, but its literally a world focused on any other two genres you can pick outside of the great dome: maybe it's scifi (a small worldship and maybe kidnapped by aliens), or post-apocalypse (the PCs are kept pets by robots who maintain an imaginary world for them), fantasy (cruel subjects of a mad wizard's experiment), or even modern day, but its all part of some bizarre top secret experiment;

Alien, but its in the 1720's in the Caribbean and the eponymous entity is actually a loasummoned by a houngan/bokor found in a mysterious derelict ship;

The Thing, but its a realm of sword & sorcery and the imperial outpost is at the edge of the known world, protecting from unknown monsters when a lone rider on a horse chasing a hound arrives at their doorstep from the watch tower 100 miles away....;

The Matrix, but its a demonic hellscape where demons or devils have trapped humanity in an ageless sleep, dreaming whatever nightmares are conjured up, to which a small few awaken to serve as resistance fighters against the abyssal hordes. Alternatively, the world of the dream is fantastical itself, but the reality is that humans who awaken find they are part of a society of magical godlike beings who use the deliberate limitations of the matrix/dream for their own amusement, and discard awakened humans like chattel; the humans, of course resist!

Anyway, you get the idea! The key elements to make this work are to find a solid basis for the story/plot outline from a good movie, then make it unrecognizable with the trappings of a different genre. For this to work, the dichotomy needs to be stark when contrasted; for example, in Starfinder when I borrowed from Conan the Barbarian no one got the feeling it seemed familiar to them because it was using trappings of the setting, and comparisons (such as Thulsa Doom's compound) to the movie were parallel but not exact (mountain temple vs. floating haunted space fortress). 

Of the examples I provided above, a fine example would be The Truman Show, in which maybe not unlike the classic Dreampark novels maybe the Truman Show itself in this setting is a devised world using technology to ape magic, and people dropped in to it are deliberately treated to forget who they are; when the unreality of the universe becomes apparent, the PCs eventually expose it for a lie, only to discover that the real world outside is so much stranger!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Level Up! A5E vs. Pathfinder 2E

 In consideration of my earlier post I realized, after some thought, that I had talked myself in to playing a known quantity (Pathfinder 2E) over the lesser known and intriguing Level Up! A5E. In truth, I really should lean in to trying out Level Up* if only because it is such an interesting reimaginig of 5th edition, and one which I think will be a more generally satisfying experience to everyone at the table. The nuance and additional layers of complexity that add to story elements (not merely rules) introduced to 5E in Level Up is really interesting and I absolutely want to see that in action.

I have proposed a PF2E game for some future off-night, though, to those in my player groups who are keen on it. We'll see. But honestly.....whichever group needs a shift first (and probably the Wednesday game night to be honest), Level Up should be the next thing I propose.

*Dropping the "!" and by the way, Morrus really needs to learn to name his game systems with better titles!

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Conundrum of Buy-In and Very Similar Game Systems

 I have been thinking about how, when and where I will run a future campaign using one of the D&D-like rule sets, and realized that this is probably to some degree a bit futile. One of the problems is a simple matter of buy-in: while I have all the Level Up! Advanced 5E rules at hand, only one of my other players has also invested in it, and it might be a tough sell to the multiple players in my group who buy lots of regular D&D books and have D&D Beyond subscriptions. Would they give it a try? Sure. Will they enjoy it as much as if they were playing straight 5E? Maybe....maybe not. The optimistic view is that if I run it and they enjoy it, they may decide to become invested. The pessimistic side recognizes after decades of gaming what a slog it can be to convince players to try something they were not already aware of. We'll see how it goes. 

I want to try Level Up! A5E soon because it's essentially already what One D&D plans to be: a revision of the current rules with an emphasis on new and interesting features and approaches to the core mechanical conceits of 5E. Once One D&D is out, I predict that the ongoing success or failure of the D&D-variants (such as future Tales of the Valiant from Kobold Press, as well as Level Up! A5E and other prospects like Shadowdark RPG down the road) will depend on precisely how they manage to distinguish themselves from the competition. Given that Level Up! A5E is already here, I'd like to get a chance to see how it fares before the tidal wave of future competitors arrives along with One D&D.

There's also the Pathfinder 2E Revised situation looming for later this year. I can't decide if I will buy in to it or not, though knowing me, I probably will. If I'm lucky PF2E will fix all the little gripes I have with PF2E in its current format, and at least make it easier to sell to players. Until then, I don't know what to do or where to go with it....PF2E is a game I like running as a GM, but its a hard sell to a lot of my players for precisely the problem I mentioned earlier: we've all had a chance to play it, and not as many people like it as don't. PF2E is super GM friendly, but it caters to a certain type of player over others, and therefore is not nearly as fun and interesting to play when you're on the other side of the table unless you grokk (and like) the minutiae of the character development systems.

If I did find a gang of pro PF2E players though, I would totally run it again. Just saying! But in the mean time, I am going to make the Level Up! A5E pitch to my players, probably sooner than later. I think the live group would be the best choice, though Roll20 has a decent Level up! character sheet. A Roll20 game I ran with my son went pretty well. We devised some characters based on one of his favorite subjects (Mortal Kombat) and tried out the combat with an off-brand Scorpion and Sub-Zero, and it was quite fun. Still, I'm loving the concept of live play whenever possible, and currently the Roll20 game on Saturday is in a new low level D&D 5E game, so suddenly jumping to Level Up! A5E might feel a bit redundant there.

In fact....that redundant part I mention is the real problem all of the off-brand D&D competitors will face. Time will tell, I guess, as to which (if any) manage to claw their way to a level of competitive status. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Nightmare of Moving as a RPG Collector

 A brief gripe post, always fun those! I am preparing for a possible move (looks like we may be closing on a house, all pieces seem to be falling in to place as intended), and so I have been packing up box after box of books. Excluding normal non-gaming books I must have four dozen banker box and magazine box sized boxes full of books. It's a lot. For the record, I am 52 years old. If you are younger, I warn you that moving does not get better with age! It gets worse. You will want to hire people to do this stuff, trust me.

Anyway, it's really made me think a bit on how much crap I have, and why I have it. These days I've been investing my time in a limited set of games, and in perusing the many boxes I have packed, I realize I have hundreds of books that I think, at this point in life, I can be assured I may never use (or even read) again. In fact, setting aside "books I am using or know I will use" I suspect I can fill maybe 4-5 boxes at most with "books that have pure sentimental value or a collectibility that transcends my desire for reduction."

Time for another house cleaning! Maybe I can find some other homes for some of these books before I move.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Tunnels & Trolls acquired by Rebellion

 EN World has the full story here. Rebellion in the UK now owns T&T and the other Flying buffalo IPs. This is likely good news, as the ownership of T&T by an obscure holding company a couple years back looked like an odd move destined to kill T&T. Now it looks like T&T will have a new chance at life, and I happen to know it has a pretty decent following in the UK, too. 

I went to Rebellion's site to see what they were all about. There's a Judge Dredd RPG mentioned, and something called Adventure Presents that looks sort of like the classic solo game books of yore.

They have an FAQ there talking about what's planned for Tunnels & Trolls, which includes:

--New planned releases, and an entirely new edition of the game;

--promise to let fan content continue (but see below);

--compatibility with old content is left as a question mark;

--existing content will remain available on Drivethrurpg as PDFs.

I had spoken with a couple people who indicated that there were active takedowns of published T&T compatible third party content going on at Onebookshelf sites. I don't know for sure if this is true or not, as I will be honest, I haven't kept up with what's been going on with 3PP for T&T in recent years. Maybe this was due to the planned sale, some one from the old ownership at the holding company tidying up to make the sale look more lucrative? Maybe Rebellion? I have no idea.

Still, its good to see T&T has a possible publishing future. Unfortunately it may now enter the realm of "Games that grew away from their creators" as I have no evidence, yet, that Ken St. Andre, Steve Crompton or any of the other T&T alumni may be involved in whatever Rebellion has planned....but who knows! Time will, as always, tell.