May 242013
 

cogsSadly I find myself unable to afford the full edition of this game at present, but after thoroughly enjoying the work the did on the Lovecraft/WWII mash-up that was Achtung! Cthulhu, I just had to give this is a look. I adore Steampunk you see. To this day, the only game I have ever tried to design from the ground up has been a Steampunk card game of high adventure and exploration. My two favourite RPGs are both Steampunk inspired, being the original and wonderful Deadlands, and the gas-mask chic game of Neo-Vicotrian horror that is Unhallowed Metropolis.

This particular product took my fancy after reading the blurb on the back of the book, as it reminded me a lot of the superb little game The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchhausen. It seems like they have taken the time to boil down a lot of the fripperies of Steampunk, and just keep the basic essence that makes it so much fun. The artwork alone does a great job of this. In the few pages I’ve been able to see so far, it mixes photography of Victorian objects with caricature like drawings of Steampunk characters. Although these are simple drawings indeed, they perfectly illustrate the lightweight feel of the game.

And boy is it lightweight. Just three stats per character – with specialisations – that are reduced as damage is dealt until the unlucky PC passes out from their wounds. So very simple, and perfect for a bit of light-hearted fun over tea and cake. I would be interested in seeing the rest of the book, as I think the adventures they include would be grand old fun indeed. As well as taking Steampunk as their biggest inspiration, the storytelling style is claimed to be all Pulp! Another thing I can really get behind, as whenever I run the current incarnation of Deadlands, it always has a Pulp feel to it.

If your purse stretches to it, based on nothing but the few pages I have seen, I would advise you go pick this one up. Even the full game is still a very reasonable price indeed.

Feb 192013
 

Thank you dear readers for the taking the time to read this little blog I write. Without a readership, I’m just talking to myself, and that’s plain crazy. Some of you may be curious why I do write this blog, as at no point in the last seven months have I gone into any details about why I decided to share my thoughts with anyone with an inclination to read them. I’m going to rectify that this week, and also fill you all in on some other little things I’ve got going on too, basically because over the last seven months, my life has changed quite a bit.

To begin with then, I’m a gamer. I often use his to describe myself more than any other word. ‘Geek’ night also cover it, but I’m geeky about a variety of things, such as comic books, history and extreme metal, but my biggest passion is for role playing games (with a side order of card/board/computer games too). So when I decided I wanted to write about something, it made sense to concentrate on the thing I identify with the most. Why then do I identify as a gamer?

For those who don’t know me personally – and based on the daily views I get, I think it’s safe to say my readership has grown beyond my friends – I’m a short, (They call me Shorty for a reason) skinny, bespectacled individual who was often an outsider growing up. This lends itself well to slightly more cerebral pursuits as I had less distractions growing up. I don’t think I had what I would think of as close friends until I was about fifteen and discovered war gaming and the social scene built up around it. Since then – with a few noteworthy exceptions – all of my close friends have been involved in the hobby in one way or another. Almost every girlfriend I’ve had has been a gamer in some way too. Without gaming, I’m not sure if I would be the socially aware man I am today, as it wasn’t until I met large groups of fellow gamers that I had to learn how to behave around large groups at all.

That last bit by the way, is a big screw you to all the people who think that gamers are socially awkward by default. It turns out that in a society that numbers 60+, there are no more than a small handful of us who have any sort of social failings; probably no more than you’d get in any group of that size. No, we’re all fairly well balanced people, who just happen to enjoy role playing.

So that’s why I chose gaming as the thing I wanted to talk about. As to why I felt the need to write a blog in the first place? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for the next thrilling installment for that.

I did promise an announcement though, and this one comes straight off the back of me writing a gaming blog. Some months ago I offered a free NPC to any one of my readers who wanted one; all they needed to do was give me a very basic idea of what they needed, and then I let my creative juices flow. For the last week I’ve been going back to those NPCs and doing a bit of re-writing. I’ve removed any reference to any intellectual property and made each and every one of them system neutral. Then I tidied up some language and grammar issues, and reformatted the lot into one pdf. i even added a new one, as I’ve been thinking a lot about playing a certain type of character for the last couple of weeks, and wanted to share.

That entire document of 16 pages is now available from DriveThruRPG for the low low price of $0.99. Of course, you can just grab them all for free by scrolling through the comments of the aforementioned article, but you’ll have to put up with spelling errors and some rambling thoughts between them. And you won’t get the shiny new NPC either. This is in fact my first of (hopefully) many more pdfs that I’ll have for sale at next to nothing on DriveThru. An experiment into how easy it is to get stuff up there, which will eventually lead on to a monthly product line of system neutral adventures.

I’m sure all GMs have ideas floating around about games they’d like to run, or even short adventures they have completed and would love to share. Well, I’m going to share them, and as each one goes live, I’ll let you all know where you can find it. See you tomorrow for the continuing saga, and another announcement about another project I’m involved in.

Jan 142013
 

I spend a wee bit of time on the RPG sub/Reddit these days, and I love a lot of what gets posted on there. Something that turns up every couple of days though – usually after the last one drops from the front page and into the ether- is someone talking about a problem player in their group. What I’m offering may not work for everyone, but sums up a good 95% of the problems that seem to affect people around a table. Simply put, player ‘A’ is not playing the same as players B through F, and this is causing problems in the group. Are they playing the game wrong though?

That’s a big problem when talking about any game; is there ever a ‘right’ way to play it? I’ve220px-Dartagnan-musketeers seen a couple of posts discuss this is in the past, and most come to the simple conclusion that there is no wrong fun. I actually agree with this, and if you’re interested I wrote a little piece about why I wouldn’t want to be the Gm for the Three Musketeers. Did I think that they were playing the ‘game’ incorrectly? Absolutely not. For the time period, setting and genre of the piece, they were behaving exactly as they should do. And in all honesty, I’ve played games with similar set-ups, and had a bloody good laugh swashing my buckles with the best of them. But as a GM, it wouldn’t be my cup of tea to run that kind of game. This is a personal choice, and not a judgement on people or the way they play. I know as absolute fact that not everyone likes the style of games I run, and have seen someone lose interest so quickly it was scary.

The thing is, if you’re running a game for the group, or playing as part of one, the group as whole should be what decides how the game works. Lets go back to our original problem of player ‘A’. Imagine him (yes, I’m using the male pronoun. This is simply for personal 200px-Sherlock_Holmes_Portrait_Pagetease, as I’m a bloke, and as such find it easier to think like one) as a player who loves the thrill of an investigative game. He will spend hours poring over facts and clues, and won’t enter into a risky situation unless he has a few contingency plans, and knows almost exactly what to expect. The rest of the group however, bare a much closer resemblance to Athos and co. They’re always flying the face of danger, taking huge risks, and putting plans into action after a few minutes discussion over beers, with the most pertinent point being ‘who gets to look the coolest during this plan’.

There is nothing wrong with either of these play styles, and I’ve enjoyed both, as a player, and even – on occasion – as a GM. But after a couple of session, player ‘A’ is getting fed up. He never wants to throw his character into the same situations as the others, so often volunteers to be the look-out. Since a lot of the game drops regularly into combat rounds, he spends most of his time sat twiddling his thumbs, playing on his mobile, or doodling. The rest of the players try to include him, but soon get frustrated and take his desire to remain safe and sound as an unwillingness to engage with the group, and start to think of him as being useless, if not an actual inconvenience. After all, get a different player in who likes the same kind of fun, and there’s another character to help in a fight instead of sitting it out.

As a GM, you should be able to spot this happening, and the sensible thing to do is approach the lone player first and find out what the problem is. There could be any number of other factors that the above example hasn’t even touched on. Things that happen away from the table can often impact what happens around it. If there is something that can be done, then as a GM, you should make some effort to do it. The more likely problem will be that they just don’t like the way the game is being played though.

This is a bigger problem to deal with. You don’t want to change everything so that one player has fun while the others sit bored; that will only exacerbate the problem. You could try to include some elements of game play that better suit the expectations of player ‘A’, but be wary of going too far down this route. The other players may have no interest in such activities, and you could end up with a near permanent group split, as player ‘A’ deals with the investigation side, and the rest get into fights. I don’t know about you, but I try my best to keep party splits to a minimum, as they can end up with one or more players spending a good chunk of game night with nothing to do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave too many other options, and the most effective can be the hardest to convince yourself to take.

Sometimes you have to realise that players can end up in the wrong groups. If you’ve tried talking to them, seeing if there’s any solution that won’t involve changing the nature of the game – or how the majority of players enjoy it – then it might be time to bite the bullet, and sit down with player ‘A’. This won’t be an easy conservation, and you have to be mature in the way you handle it, even if player ‘A’ isn’t. Don’t disparage their way of playing the game, tell them that during other games, you’d love to get more under the skin of the adventure and see what’s what. But for this game, you have to concede that the majority of players want to not think too much, and throw themselves into the action. That being said, as a GM, you can’t change the whole game to suit one player, and if they’re not having fun, it could be time for them to drop out of the group. You don’t even have to make it a permanent thing, but they need to understand that other groups exist who want to play the same way they do, and will find their methods far more fun than kicking in the door and seeing what happens.

As I say, not a fun conversation, and please, if you follow my advice, remember to include all the steps leading up that conversation first. But if a group isn’t working, then sometimes the only option is to fix the group. As always share your thoughts below, even if you massively disagree with anything I’ve said. I invite all manner of feedback, and look forward to a debate. Of course, if you do agree, and have had to resort to this course of action yourself, I would love to hear from you too, and how it all went down.

Dec 232012
 

I have touched gently upon the subject of women in gaming before. It’s not something I talk about a lot, mainly because in my life it isn’t that big a deal. I game as part of a large role playing society that has a pretty healthy gender mix (still very much dude-heavy, but far from a sausage fest), and we’ve never put up with the kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior that I’ve heard about elsewhere. That being said, we still buy rule books, and I still get wound up by how women are represented in them. It’s not just RPGs though, so if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go on a little bit of a ramble right now.

I love watching strong female characters in action. I do however feel a little let down when they’re portrayed by tiny waif like creatures who look they’ve never eaten a meat pie in their lives. As an example, I find it hard to believe that this character is an absolute kick ass hard assassin.

Seriously, she’s tiny and has bugger all muscle tone and definition. I understand that a trained fighter can use leverage and perform amazing feats without being the strongest person in the world, but think back to how many times you’ve watched a movie or a TV show with a kick ass female lead, and they’ve been as sylph-like as Summer Glau.

Now, doesn’t Michelle look like she can handle herself just a little bit better in a fight. And yet, she is rarely cast in a lead role as an action star, instead ending up as part of the backdrop. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great in those roles, but so often is overshadowed by women with a slighter figure, who for some reason are seen as been better suited to that kind of role.

Lets go one further shall we. I’m sure a lot of my readers have seen the rather wonderful

sci-fi action/horror flick, Aliens. Do you remember this character? She kicked all kinds of ass, and held her own against the xenomorphs when surrounded by butch colonial marines. She looked and acted the part perfectly, but died while the rather incapable and more photogenic Ripley lived on. This happens a lot, and if you look at female characters as depicted in RPG rule books, you’ll almost always see the kind of thing. Male characters come in all shapes and sizes, but not so much female ones (I don’t want to get into a debate on costumes right now, but one phrase will sum up my opinions pretty well: Boob-windows?).

If I was an adventurer, I would be looking for compatriots who looked capable, not pretty. I have played a wide variety of characters in the past, and only one whom I actually described as handsome. It was a 7th Sea game, and it made sense for him to be a bit of ladies man. Other than that I’ve played all manner of grizzled adventurers, and con-men. They’ve been scarred, short & chubby and sometimes, just plain ugly, and no one has ever decided that they would rather not have me in the party because of it. So why is it assumed that female characters have to be hot to get accepted?

I’m not talking about all the time here, and of course there are exceptions, and ground is being made in a lot of arenas, but this is still certainly a problem.

One more example, and the reason my mind turned to this subject. I watched the latest

Batman film recently, and before it even started, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as the others, for one simple reason: Catwoman. Her story has been told before, and there really is nothing new to add to it, and I think Nolan just covered the basics without doing anything exciting with this character. And it is a dull, and cliched character. She is a skilled acrobat, and that’s kind of cool, but when a fight starts, I’ve never quite gotten how she poses a threat to Batman. She is always portrayed as just a slim as the other examples above, but here she is in Nolan’s movie. Lithe? certainly. Able to kick the crap out a guy in body armour who has had years of the finest combat training? Maybe not.

And here I come back to gaming again. If I was looking for a cat burglar to join in a caper I was on, I would be a hell of a lot more concerned with function than form. Anyone who turned up to the job in stiletto heals for instance, would  be laughed out the door. I love the idea of Catwoman as an actual thief. Someone who has to keep themselves in the kind of shape you’d need to be in to do the things she can do. have you ever seen a professional freerunner? Those guys are built like brick outhouses, and they need to be to hold up their entire body weight for as long as they have to while on a run. And to be able to fight, they need muscle mass for that too. All in all, I think it’s time for RPG games designers and artists to take a long hard look at how they represent women in their games.

Give them archetypes that make sense, that show that they are just as capable as the male characters, and really should dress in a manner appropriate to the job they will be doing. As always, comments and discussions are more than welcome, even if you don’t agree with me.

Nov 302012
 

As people may be aware from a previous article, I’m currently running a Cyberpunk 2020 game set in The City of Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan series of comic books. Last week, every one of my players sent me a write up from the point of view of their characters. I’m going to share the links below, not to highlight how awesome a GM I am, or well I’ve weaved together a narrative, but to show how taking the time to look back at the events and write them up is time well spent. Each person has done such a good job of finding the voice of their characters, and has approached the story in a unique way. Take a look below clicking on the character name, and remember; they’re all writing this after the same session.

Flux. A slightly mentally frail demolitions expert.

Tom ‘Buck’ Rackham. A comic book loving used to be accountant with a slight fetish for comic book hero ‘Buck Steele’

Ed Winchester. Local anchorman and reporter.

Leo‘. Technological savant suffering from selective amnesia.

2d Lt Aaron Walker. A USAF pilot with a slight drinking problem

Vaughn Donovan. Stage magician extraordinaire.

I hope you enjoyed that little interlude, and if you want to keep up on events, my players tend to post their stuff roughly once a week.

Nov 182012
 

Just over a month ago, I rolled past the 10,000 hit mark on this blog, and if you missed it, I offered anyone of my readers an NPC that I would write for them. Just a description and a background, but no stats, and let them use it in their games.

Well, over the course of the month, 34 of you wonderful people took me up on my offer, meaning there are now 34 more free range organic Shortymonster official NPCs in the world. You can check them out by clicking this link and scrolling down through them. For now that is. I’m about to start work on getting them down onto a pdf document – with images and everything – each character tagged for its primary genre, and others that it could work in with a little tweak. Some of them are setting specific, so I will also be tagging those too.

This wouldn’t have been as successful without some support from stars of the RPG online community, a few of them I have already thanked here. A couple of others are also worth mentioning, so check them out too.

The Tower of Archmage has opened up the chance to contribute to one of their latest design ideas on their blog. With the NPC I created for them being one of several star port merchants, if you have any other ideas, head on over and get in touch.

The Dragon’s Flagon is another blog with a distinctly OSR feel to it. That being said, those amongst you like myself who find themselves somewhere between old school and new school can still take a lot from his writing.

So, was this a good idea? I ruddy loved it! It was a great way to stretch some creative muscles, and I’ve heard back from a lot of people that they loved the ideas I gave them. Not only did the NPCs have a bit of background information about them, I also tried to include at least one hook in each too, as a little bit of inspiration for plots. I actually found out this morning that a friend of mine has taken the NPC I created for him and used it to get a lot of his plot ideas tied together. I had so much in fact, that I think I will do this again.

That means that each November will be free NPC month here at Shortymonster. The same deal as before; you don’t have to ‘Like’ my Facebook page, or subscribe to the blog, just drop a comment bellow the article in question, with as much or as little info as you think I’ll need, and I’ll write something up for you.

In terms of what it did for the blog – and I can’t stress enough that it wasn’t just this – A little over a month ago I had 10,000 views in just over four months of blogging. As I write this, that number is over 18,000. That’s a hell of a climb in one month.

Once more then, thanks to everyone who has helped out with this, either through sharing my offer with your own readers, asking for an NPC for me to write, or just heading on over to see what all the fuss was about. I’ll keep on blogging as long you lot keep on reading, and once a year – to let you know how much I appreciate you all – I’ll do this all over again.

Nov 092012
 

When I last left you I had completed the Excitement deck and shared a few choice samples with you, along with the rule book so you know what the heck it all means. Or at least, that was the plan. Go and take a look if you missed it…

Since then I’ve mainly been working on the Adventure deck. I say mainly, I also came down with a pretty bad man flu and spent an evening watching a Google+ hangout as some great people play tested an awesome game. But mainly the Adventure deck. This took a lot longer to square away than the Excitement deck, even though it’s smaller. The reason for this is that I wanted a whole bunch of unique Adventures, where as a lot of the Excitement cards made more sense as duplicates. In the original idea, I did have duplicates of Adventures, with the plan being the players would ‘race’ to be the first to finish each one. You know the drill, once someone has mapped the source of the Nile, doing it again later just isn’t as impressive. Sure, they could still head out there, and might even discover something new and shiny, but the main work has already been done and the achievement celebrated.

I had worked out ways for people coming along after the fact to have an easier time of it, but reap less rewards, but it just seemed a needlessly complicated way of dealing with exploration. Instead I have created nine unique Adventures per continent and then nine other open Adventures than can be completed anywhere but with less rewards and a slightly higher difficulty. Not only did this take time as it stretched my creative muscles a bit more, but the Adventure cards have a bit more information on them, and a few more numbers that need to be balanced. Click this link, and you’ll see what I mean.

It also gave me a few opportunities to try out some extra ideas, such as differing rewards or individual difficulties depending on the nature of the Adventure. All in all it was time well spent, and I hope that the changes I made – including simplifying the language and doing away with often repeated sentences in favour of basic terms – will speed up the game play. The last thing I need before I can try it out though is a set of characters.

I decided to keep it to the six I had in mind originally, but worked out differently based on the rules revisions. A lot of this is the same as I did to the Adventure cards. removing full sentences in favour of modifiers to a game effect. This mean they should be smaller cards – three to a sheet instead of two – without looking cluttered. I’m hoping the balance issues will be swifter to work out now I have a better handle on it, so with any luck, I should have a Monday update that includes some files to download that will allow people to actually print and play the game themselves.

I hope there’s at least one of you out there who is interested enough – and can fit it into their own busy NaGa DeMon schedule – to take a look and let me know what they think. Without play impartial play testing I’ll never know if this works as well as it does in my head.

Nov 052012
 

I’ve touched on Warbows and Murder Strikes so far, but this week, we’re going to take a look at something a bit more advanced; gunpowder weapons firing balls of lead. Although these are a lot less prevalent in fantasy RPGs, I do know they exist, as well as in Pirate themed action and adventure games. Feel free to take as much or as little of this advice to apply to your own games, as some of it may be a little too real, and could take away from the fun of it all.

Because these weapons are far from common, and most fantasy games prefer to stick closer to a late medieval time frame, if they do show up, most people don’t actually know too much about them. Lets start with some basics then. Loading the weapon – and for this I am assuming that the barrel has not been rifled - takes a professional soldier whom has been drilled extensively, roughly twenty seconds. Feel free to work out how many combat rounds that is, and then decide you probably don’t care that much for realism in this subject. I don’t blame you, but if you are going to shorten that time, don’t make it too silly. Allow for well trained characters to take feats or advantages to reduce this some. Just remember, what the character is doing is dangerous, and rushing leads to mistakes, which could lead to severe trauma and death.

The reason for this is that you will setting off a small explosion in a narrow space very close indeed to your face. Even when it works fine, expect to have a soot blackened face, with pock marked scars from the black powder in the priming pan. Also, be very careful with the ramrod: grip it with finger tips and not a fist. If you get an accidental ignition, life’s easier with shorter fingers than no hand.

Once loaded, the gun is usually fired immediately. This is because the ball will not be lodged firmly in the barrel, and holding the gun pointed vaguely downwards could allow it to roll out. Even too much jostling before firing will dislodge the shot and mean that it will not receive the full force of the explosion, exiting the barrel at sub-optimal velocity. There are ways round this, but they are not risk free. You could force a lump of drying mud or clay down the barrel to hold the shot and powder in place. If it’s too dry, it will have little effect, coming loose just as easily; too wet and you run the risk of getting the powder damp and causing a misfire and a blockage. This will destroy the weapon, and do considerable damage to its wielder.

When fired, an Indian Long Pattern musket or pistol was horrifically inaccurate. At the battle of Waterloo alone, based on rounds fired, less than 5% hit their target. The pistols were only accurate at incredibly short ranges: typical duels at twenty paces were called off with honour satisfied if three rounds were fired by each participant and none hit. This happened more than you would think. In battle, the muskets were only effective in volley fire, and even then, only at close range. Holding fire “’til you see the whites of their eyes” was very good advice, as firing early was a great way to waste powder and shot. the reason for this was the shot was a lot smaller than the barrel, and when fired would have plenty of room to rattle along inside it before coming out in the vague direction it was pointed.

The way around this was to rifle the barrel. You know that great of James Bond as seen down the barrel of a gun, that looks like a camera? The lines you see are the rifling. This is done to put a spin on the round, making it travel in a straighter line through the air. To be truly effective however, the round needs to fit the barrel much tighter. Before advances in weapon design and the invention of cartridge shots, the way to do this was to wrap the ball in leather. The grooves would grip the material, spinning the round as it left the barrel, drastically increasing accuracy and allowing for sharp shooters.

If you plan on playing a character who uses a black powder weapon, I would strongly suggest you find a rifle rather than a musket. It makes you significantly more effective without forcing you to join in the volley fire. In realistic terms, the disadvantage of this was a longer reload time, as the shot would have to be forced down the barrel because of the firmer fit. For the sake of fun, this can easily be ignored though. Since these weapons would be hand made, the basic weapon would certainly be a musket, and a rifle would be a master-crafted affair.

If you’re the GM it might also be an idea to assume that your player characters armed with firearms know how to maintain them. Keeping track of how often they strip the weapon to clear powder from the touch holes, how regularly the change the flint to ensure a spark, and how clean they keep the grooves of the burning leather that sticks inside them.

One final note now, on bayonets. They are usually socket mounted, meaning they can be taken on and off in a few seconds by someone with experience, and act similar to spears in close combat. Their added benefit is that they can be wielded as knives, with the longer bayonets used on rifles closer in length to a short sword. If you have an entire unit equipped with these weapons, they could all fix bayonet and form square, holding them pointed outwards like a very pointy wall. Although effectively stalling them, and making it harder to load and fire, no horse, no matter how experienced its rider, will willingly charge at the square.

I hope some of the above was useful to you, and please remember that all of the above is optional, and if you would rather ignore it, I take no offense at all. I’m just happy to get any chance to use my History degree…

Oct 152012
 

Today I’m going to talk about the new game that I’ve been working on recently. This is me trying to give something back to the awesome RPG community and it will take the shape of a card game about Steampunk explorers, searching for fame and riches in a Neo-Victorian world. In the past I have talked about writing up an adventure, and although this is ongoing it is very much on the back-burner right now. the problem comes from the style that I use to run games, and how hard it is to translate that to a written adventure that can be used by others. It’s a bit complicated, and is probably deserving of its own blog at some point in the future. The short story is that it’s very hard to write down an adventure when nine out ten events that happened in it were because of player choices that I had did nothing to create or influence.

So, instead I thought I’d try my hand at another thing I love: card games. To be specific, card games with a board game feel. Think Elder Sign, or the new Blood Bowl game, both by Fantasy Flight. What else do I like? Steampunk! It has long been a fascination for me, going back many years. If I was any good at crafting clothes and items, I would have made so many that you would never have seen me not wearing a Steampunk inspired outfit. Sadly, I’m rubbish at such things, so instead I created fiction, in the style of role playing games and adventures, and occasional short prose pieces. When I was thinking about what I wanted in a card game, Steampunk jumped straight to my mind.

I also love horror, but if I want those two things to cross paths, I already have my favourite RPG, Unhallowed Metropolis by Atomic Overmind, if I want to play a game like that. So to do attempt something different, I went for the Victorian theme of exploration and adventure. This was heavily inspired by Mark Hodder’s books, where he takes a Steampunk look at one the period’s greatest explorers, Sir Richard Burton. So, I knew what I wanted from a game, the next problem was to make it happen.

I suppose I had better explain the blog title a bit, before we go any further. I saw the deck of cards having too components, one of which would be the explorations and adventures that the characters would go on. My first thought was to have them in one deck, along with the other card, and when played, the explorer leaves London and goes off around the world. This was quickly dismissed as the random element of card draw could leave someone with no adventures for an entire game. Thus was born the ‘Adventure’ deck. A bunch of cool things to do, such as be the first to find the Source of the Nile, or to venture into Macedonia, and meet the Metal Men that reside there. At this point I knew I would need two decks, so the only option was to give the second deck the working title of ‘Excitement’. I’m sure all the geeks out there have spotted where I got that nugget of inspiration from. [Link NSFW]

Next came a few weeks of card design, and thinking of what to put on the cards. The lovely people at Reddit helped out with some basic character ideas, more than a couple of which made it into the six I’m currently using for play-testing. There were also gadgets galore to help out the intrepid Explorers in the field, Retainers with their own skills to accompany them, and even an occasional Valet; something no self respecting gentle-person should be seen without. I didn’t like the idea of exploring in a vacuum though, so as well as extra cards to help out an Explorer – finding a ancient map, or having a rare beast just walk into camp one morning – there are plenty of cards that can be played to derail a fellow Explorer’s quest. Sending in a mob of angry natives, or just having the weather turn against you at an inopportune moment.

With all that sorted, and some basic cards formatted – including having them backed with an ‘E’ or ‘A’ respectively, it was time to play test. At point of writing, I have only had one opportunity to do so, and big thanks go out to my very good friend Gav. He invited me around to his house, I got to meet his daughter for the first time since she acquired the power of speech, and was given a couple of snifters of very fine rum indeed. And we also got to play the game, tentatively entitled ‘Excitement and Adventure’.

The game basically works with each player taking on the role of an Explorer, and investing their time and money into winning a wager about who can get the most ‘Renown’ by going off and having grand adventures, and living to tell the tale. The characters all being members of an Explorers society who agreed the terms of the wager, then went at it with gusto. I will spend more time later discussing the mechanics in detail, but for now, there’s a few things I learnt from this one and only play test.

  1. The game takes too long. We were playing for well over two hours before I called it on account of the lateness of the hour. For the record, Gav kicked my ass.
  2. One entire mechanic needed to be ditched. It never came up, and if it it had, would have made the game even more drawn out.
  3. I need to think of new adventures for the characters to go on. The Adventure deck needs bulking up after the rule change.
  4. It’s totally possible to go off on an adventure with far too many Retainers and Gadgets. This needed changing.
  5. I need a few more play tests before I release this into the wilds of an open play test.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m hoping to rope a few more friends into playing the game with me over the coming days and weeks, and will occasionally update on here, if anything interesting enough happens. If any of my readers has any cool suggestions of adventures for the Explorers to go and have, the comments box is just below here.

Oct 082012
 

A few months back I looked at a console game through the eyes of a table top role player, and I must admit, the game didn’t come out too well. Sure it got rave reviews all over the rest of the internet, but in this little corner, not so much. Today I place that role playing eye firmly on another Xbox game that I’ve been playing recently: Borderlands 2. This will not be an in-depth review about its merits as a first person shooter, but more a little look at how it works when seen as a traditional role playing game. For a bit of background, it’s worth knowing that I played and loved the first game, and most of the time have been playing both of them split screen with my girlfriend.

The first bad thing about the Borderlands franchise as an RPG is the almost total lack of interaction your character has with the rest of the world that doesn’t involve shooting it in the face with a mind blowing variety of boom sticks. The most they seem to talk in the second installment is a few little quips when employing their special abilities - maybe half a dozen different lines which get old pretty quickly considering how often they get used – and little back and fourths between player characters as one heals another. This kinda sucks, but when I think back to some other games, it really isn’t that big a deal. Sure, Deus Ex, Mass Effect and the Dragon Age games give you conversation trees a-plenty, but sometimes you really don’t want to hear the voice they’ve given your character as it may very well be a voice that you would never associate with the way you imagine it.

What it does to make up for that is give the NPCs some killer interactions with the player characters and each other. If you find an Echo recorder and pick it up, try and pay attention to what’s being said; it is usually tangential to the plot, but even so, they’re well written and bloody hilarious. There are little bits on the player character backgrounds, as well as history of the world and NPC back stories too. Actual conversations are also worth paying attention to. Usually the only verbal interactions available are when collecting a job, and turning it in. This will almost always have a bit of monologue from the quest giver, and once again, even though you don’t need  to hear it, take the time to listen. They really do give life to the characters and contain some of the funniest writing I’ve heard in a video game.

Don’t get me wrong, the characterization for almost every NPC is pretty one dimensional. The bad-guy is bad, and every time he has something to say, it reinforces his stature as ‘evil-boss’ for the game. I would drop a few examples here, but I’m trying my best to keep this review spoiler free, and some of his best lines lead to some great reveals in the plot that I really don’t want to spoil for anyone. Handsome Jack isn’t the only bad guy in the piece, and all of the others are just as hammy when it comes to their lines and how they are delivered. Put it this way though, if you load the game up, take a look at the awesome stylized graphics and expected some subtlety to the characterization, you may not have very realistic expectations.

That is one of the strongest points about this game though; its writing and how well it all slots together to give a consistent feel to the world and the plot. Any GM knows that you can run a dark game and still throw in occasional bits of humour and not ruin the mood. The ‘GM’ for this game is running it for pure comedy, but knows just the right amount of ‘dark’ to slide in on occasion to keep everyone engaged with the plot and stop being nothing but a yuck-fest.

What else makes it a good RPG? Character advancement. The skill trees are pretty varied, and it’s easy to think of  leveling up getting you some hit points, an advancement in a skill and/or a feat. All of which are perfectly in fitting with your character, while also giving you the freedom to try out a few different things without ever worrying about stepping on another character’s toes. As an example, playing a Siren I can be kick ass with a sniper rifle, but will still never get in the way of the Assassin being the best at it.

My final point is a mild spoiler for people who have never played the first game, and maybe even a little bit spoilerific for the second. You get to meet the characters who played the vault hunters in the first game. In thus game they’re pure NPCs, and the writers have done what every good GM should take a swing at at least once in the same situation. If you have returning players to the same campaign world, but years after the last plot’s resolution, and bringing in all new characters, then what do you do with the old ones? Write them into the world. Make them a little bit epic, give them their own followers and show that their actions have had long lasting consequences on the setting. To me this is one of the best examples of how the game works as an RPG, a thought given to the consequences of the player actions that tie in with the larger setting, and it’s something that a lot of GMs can learn from.

As before, I invite people to make their own comments below, either on the game itself, or thoughts on how I viewed it.