Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Sandbox and the Railroad - then and now

Been a while, huh? Well, that's life in the OSR blogosphere! It's been a pretty happy holidays here at chéz A&R...no gaming loot for x-mas or my birthday, but that's OK.  I'm a big boy now, and I buy my own games. I'm already pretty gamed-up here.

Anyway, I picked up a mess of interesting games recently.  Too many to read, much less catalog in a single post. And that also includes a sprinkling of Steam games (you may have heard about the winter sale, no?).


Apparently, I haven't played all the games...

And from that material I draw the topic of this post i.e. comparing sandbox/railroad concepts between then and now. Specifically, I'd like to compare two very different games: Shadows Over Bögenhafen, the classic Warhammer Fantasy adventure, and The Escapists 2, a recent videogame.

Weird comparison, huh?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Human-as-class

So I took part in an interesting thread on the DCC G+ group today.  It's one of those perennial OSR discussions about "race-as-class," which is all fine and dandy, but Von Ether half-jokingly raised the idea of "human-as-class"...and that gave me a bunch of ideas.

Basically, humans tend to be the individualistic and practical explorers in a lot of sci-fi...you know, Space Americans. Other races are assigned these far more specialized and homogenized cultures that represent only small facets of our lifestyle. I'm talking about lazy Star Trek tropes like the eternally-warlike Klingons and coldly rational Vulcans.


Watch out for Space Americans, man

The same is often true of various demi-human races in fantasy settings, to an extent.  So not only are these mythological entities scrubbed clean of mystery by allowing players to run them, but they are further constrained by unimaginative stereotypes.  Dwarves are grumpy, greedy, industrious and proud.  Elves are elegant and aloof, often advanced but in decline. These lazy cliches have had all the life stamped out of them since Tolkien.

But what if humans were the strange and threatening aliens who belong to a heavily-stereotyped culture?  I proposed two possibilities in the thread: humans-as-orcs and humans-as-elves.

Friday, November 17, 2017

My own private Anomaly

I've mentioned here before how I've adapted Patrick Wetmore's brilliant Anomalous Subsurface Environment for my house campaign.  Or rather, I'm mentioned that I've adapted it, if not how.  Which is mostly fair, since I didn't start out with any major changes besides the stats and mechanics.  After all, I had a rationale to explain that the party traveled to the Land of One-Thousand Towers from their homeworld, allowing the two settings to be almost entirely distinct.  In other words, there was no need to figure out how to integrate ASE into my home setting.


I dig the metal bard in the lower right corner wailing on his ax

Given that I've been moving to a somewhat more ad hoc approach to GMing (perhaps better described as just-in-time design i.e. desperate brainstorming the night before and not a moment earlier), it makes sense that I didn't bother to think about things in great detail.  I'm into a more organic approach to world building, although I'm careful to avoid the pitfalls of illusionism.  Suffice to say, my approach was to just start with straight-up ASE and let it evolve from there.

And evolve it has.  At this point, some of the heretofore unimagined backstory is starting to coalesce.  I now know a lot more about what makes this world tick.  I know why wizards are all insane, and why their magical tools don't work after they are killed.  I know what happened to the ancient civilization that discovered/created the ASE.  Heck, I even know what the ASE is.  

At least, now I know all these things in the context of my own campaign.  And I'd like to share it with you.  It all started to come together when I tried to imagine a reason that my players might venture forth from Denethix to visit a distant village by the name of Carrowmere...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Playing with mechanics

I'm currently in the midst of collecting ideas for a third edition of my personal RPG heartbreaker, Empress.  I don't know if there's much point talking about editions or versions, because homebrew rulesets like these are always in constant motion.  However, it's still a good idea to formalize these into something like "releases," if only for the sanity of the players at my table.  "How does initiative work, this week?" can be a rather pointed question.


This mechanic is all good

Anyway, the ongoing process as well as the process of formalization has me thinking about mechanics.  So here are a few of those thoughts!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Review follow-ups: Blades in the Dark (the back half) and Life and Death, Zarth Edition (for the Crypts and Things system)

I've been trying to make a dent in my backlog of quality RPG content without purchasing more.  So far, it's an exercise in willpower, but the alternative is the pathetic existence of a digital hoarder.  My role-playing backlog is the equivalent of a crawlspace full of unread issues of National Geographic.  It's nowhere near as messy, but I have nothing to show for it.


He probably actually read these

Anyway, I just caught up on two interesting projects that, for different reasons, return me to past reviews.  I recently completed my entire read-through of John Harper's Blades in the Dark; when I wrote my pre-review, I had only completed a read-through of the mechanics.  

I still haven't played the damn thing, but who knows when that will happen?  I want to review the rest of the text while we're still alive.

As for Life and Death, Zarth Edition, which is a recent conversion of one of the author's (Newt Newport) older adventures to his most recent rule-set i.e. Crypts and Things. I previously reviewed C&T very favorably, and this new adventure is worthy of the system.

First up: Blades in the Dark, part II:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Concepts in game mechanics

Any serious GM is always going to have a few ideas about gaming stewing at once, and inevitably some of the ideas will relate to game mechanics.  So let's talk about a few of those.


Super-simple die systems

I'm always obsessed with the idea of simple mechanics.  When I can identify some mechanics that reduce complexity without sacrificing simulation, I'm happy.  I'm also trying to find ways to make the hobby more accessible.  One way that role-playing games can be a huge turnoff to a lot people is the complexity factor.


Rolling the old D2

Reading Blades in the Dark (see my pre-review) has helped me figure out some of the final details on a super-simple die mechanic. The idea is that it boils down to a single D6 roll.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pre-review: Blades in the Dark

It's time for another one of my half-cocked opinionspre-reviews, and the subject of this one is that fresh-faced new hepcat, Blades in the Dark.  It was written by a fine fellow named John Harper and published by...a company?  It's hard to tell, because DriveThruRPG swears this was published by One Seven, while you can find the damn thing on the Evil Hat website (and not the One Seven site). The PDF sez it's an "Evil Hat Publication" but it is "In association with One Seven."  Well, it should know who made it.  Guess that clears it up.


Not a very subtle assassin, gotta say

Anyway, I'm supposed to hate this sort of thing, because I've declared myself an OSR nerd and this game is wading far into the storygame side of the pool.  You have players narrating flashbacks!  But as I'm sure my longtime readers know, I cleave to no orthodoxy, so instead I find myself quietly intrigued.  Well, not that quietly...after all, I wrote this.

Oh, what is Blades in the Dark, anyway?  It's a role-playing game where the players are members of a gang of ne'er-do-wells in a Steampunk world with gritty low magic.  You know, Dunwall from Dishonored.  This is Dishonored: The RPG in all but name.  I mean, the name of this city is Duskwall.  That's the opposite of trying to hide your influences.