UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams

UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams: December 2013

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Inevitable Retrospective

It's the last day of 2013. It's been a busy year. But 2014 looks promising too.

UbiquitousRPG with Friday Night Roleplay

Probably the biggest investment of time made this year has been in working with the Friday Night Roleplay group to run a fantasy-genre game. This started towards the end of 2012 and is still going. Just about.

Through the year, however, we have developed our own iteration of OSR-inspired fantasy roleplaying rules, which I rather egotistically dubbed UbiquitousRPG. There have been four major revisions of the rules, along with alterations in the way the fantasy-specific bits work, and the system now seems to play quite well.

As with all ongoing campaigns, however, there are always periods of inertia (like Christmas, which kills play for over 6 weeks). The challenge this week is to get back to running the game for the first session of 2014 on Friday 3rd. What's promising, however, is that we look set to have a full house of players.

Gaming at School

Alongside the home group, there is also a small gaming club that runs at the school where I work. Here is where the ongoing campaign is being run (albeit falteringly) by a newbie GM using the Imagine RPG. 

Gaming here is totally different. It's much more like the gaming that used to happen 30 years ago back at my own school: fantasy-dominated, broadly hack-n-slash adventuring with a group of charmingly precocious teenagers. It's a lot of fun... when they get going.

This year, trying to be hands-off and let them learn to play independently, there has been less consistent play... but what the guys are doing is their own. I've only run one game outside of their campaign, and you can read about what I learned from The Funnel in that post. 

The biggest thing has been a reminder of just how little support a group of teenagers really needs to get playing. Once they are exposed to roleplaying, you can get out of their way. They will create, play, and enjoy without adult intervention.

Serene Dawn Minimalism

One of the side-effects of writing for the home fantasy campaign, and the design of UbiRPG, has been an increased focus on what makes a good game. Working with +Scott Templeman on the Serene Dawn SF setting has also opened up some fresh ideas on how to create a really simple system. Putting those sets of influences together has given birth to the Affinity System. You can read about Affinity System in the introductory post, so I'll not talk details here.

What's been really interesting has been exploring the idea of minimalist gaming. At the start of the design process, some three weeks ago, we were simply rolling 2d6 and seeking to beat one of five difficulty numbers (3, 5, 7, 9, or 11). To be honest, that works pretty well for a highly narrative game. 

We're now at the stage where, in the interests of defining character more clearly, we've added concepts which seek to be flexible - namely Affinities and Knacks. What intrigues me is to realise how much many RPGs "lock-down" the stats and abilities of characters. The process of design, in which everything is fluid, has opened up thinking about how much we can maintain that fluidity and flexibility in the final game. 

Looking to 2014...

Yes, I want to keep playing on Friday nights. Certainly I want to keep the school club going. And, yes, I plan to develop Affinity System further.

I also want to play some other games. I have shelves and stacks of RPG books, many of which are untouched. Here's a run-down of 5 things I'd like to try in 2014:
  • Get into Glorantha. Every time I come across this fantasy world I feel drawn to play there. I (mostly) don't care which game system gets used, I'd like to get into Glorantha.
  • Try out Traveller5. After years (literally) of being involved in the playtest forum, I'd like to have a game... preferably as a player, to be honest, but GMing it is doable.
  • Figure out Hero System. I own Hero 6th Edition. I'd like to get my head around why this is a good game and worth the effort. I've played it a couple of times... do I need to play it more?
  • Play online. I've got an account with Roll20. I'd like to find a way to use it. Is online play going to open up new opportunities?
  • Become a "better" GM. Reading Graham Walmsley's excellent "Play Unsafe", I want to play more freely and with less prep... and thus, become a better GM in the sense of being more true to my own style of play. 
That's it. Retrospective complete.
Game on!

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Thursday, 26 December 2013

Introducing Affinity System

We're creating a new roleplaying game.
It's called Affinity System.

This post aims to talk about the three things which make Affinity System cool. It's also about why we're doing it collaboratively.

Affinity System is cool because...

1. Simple Roleplaying

Yeah, you've heard it before... yet the Affinity System is simple to play.

You'll be rolling 2d6 and trying to roll high most of the time. Your Affinities can give you a bonus. If your character has a Knack for something, you'll also be adding a die... pick the best two of the three dice you rolled.

2. Character Creation Through Play

What bores the pants off us at the gaming table is when we have to "roll up" a character. You know what I mean... that one (or more) hour session where everyone talks a lot about the game but spends time filling out a form. Meh.

Affinity System asks you to make a couple of basic decisions within about 10 seconds... then we start the game. As you play, choose the Affinities your hero has... discover their Knacks... burn their Destiny to customise them as you play.

3. Play Collaboratively

Roleplaying games are usually played in groups. You want to play together and have a good time.
Affinity System encourages collaborative play.

Your group has a Destiny. You earn and burn Destiny as you play. It's up to you to decide which hero goes next... or when they get a boost... or if they need to "take one for the team".

Playing together is key.

Collaborative Design

Who's the "we"? Erm... that's me and you. And all the others.

We're running the development of Affinity System through a Patreon campaign. If you're new to what Patreon is all about, check out this very short video.

If you pledge, you join the design team. We'll use a Google+ Community to talk. We'll also post here. You're in on $1.

The plan is to make the supplements that the supporters of Affinity System want to make. You think we can do something else that's cool? Well, pledge and come tell us. You're in on $1.

More than that, I'm not precious about this game. The whole thing will be Creative Commons. You can add, tweak, and change to your hearts content. Want the SRD files? You're in on $1.

Come and check us out: http://www.patreon.com/UbiquitousRat
Game on!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Funnel

"I started out not really caring about any of these four peasants," said Jack, "but now I am really attached to this guy... he's becoming a hero!"

This statement, made at the end of our first ever attempt to play DCC RPG, really made my ears prick up. I was paying attention to that one. That was important.

"Yeah," added Will, "It's really cool that I started with one guy I was hoping would make it, but who died. My last guy is really precious now. I want him to make it out alive."

What was going on?

The Funnel

DCC RPG has a rule that I didn't want to try. 

Players roll up 3-5 characters, all of whom are basically expendable peasant spear-fodder. These are totally random characters: 3d6 across 6 stats, let the dice fall as they may. Each one gets a crude weapon, an item or two of equipment, and maybe one thing that they're lucky with. That's it. You take the band of peasants into a dungeon. Whoever survives gets to Level-Up and choose a Character Class.

On Thursday, needing a pick-up game for the four 12-13 year old boys I game with at school, I decided to try it. What the hell,eh?

Wow. We had a blast. 16 peasants went in. 7 are still alive, and we're around 60% of the way through the adventure. But we had a blast.

Heroes we care about?

Oddly, having chosen from 20 random characters (which I generated using the cool web-tool from Purple Sorceror), the guys threw their 16 "mooks" into the dungeon. We had some really fun, and slightly chaotic, roleplaying right from the start because they didn't really care what happened to these peasant scum. And yet...

As the first casualties mounted the guys began to realise the mortality of their surviving wannabes. When one player decided to quite casually have one character risk his very life to allow another to succeed, we had the makings of our first hero. Something changed. THAT guy became valuable. We wanted him to "win".

It was a lot of fun, with some tragically comic moments... even desperate acts. Yet, by the end of that first session two things happened: 1. the guys were treasuring the survivors; 2. they were desperate to see the story through to the end.

What happened?

Normally characters are heroes set apart and special. Yes, they are mortal... but the conceit is that we won't kill them without it meaning something. 

In DCC RPG characters are meat. Nothing. Until they become something more... through their actions, by their deeds. 

That feels good.
We care.

What happened there?

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Sunday, 8 December 2013

On Roleplaying, Part 1

As a gamer, I feel like I've come to a bit of a crossroads. Actually, it feels more like a nexus of crossroads. Choices between directions in different aspects of my roleplaying. I sense that once I work my way through the choices then I'll be able to more comfortably forge ahead in both GMing and Game Design.

The point of this post is to set out for the general RPG reader a question: "What choices do you make as you tread the road to gaming joy?"

In the ongoing quest for the perfect RPG experience (an ideal I realise is unattainable but nevertheless suspect is a worthy goal), these are choices that face us.

I'm curious as to what you might choose differently... and why.

One Choice Made

Astute readers will have noticed that I don't consider myself as an RPG "Player". Whilst I do (very occasionally) play RPGs, I usually have the role as "GameMaster". This was a choice I made a long time ago. Since that time, while I have sat as a player, I find myself far less skilled and far less interested than when I attempt to GM. I guess I feel that I only have time to learn so many skills... and Player is a skill-set that requires a lot of time.

Crossroad 1: The Crunch Continuum

In terms of examples for my continuum, I might place Fate at the lower end of this continuum whilst I would place Rolemaster at the higher end. One has relatively few rules and the other has a great many. Alongside rules, however, we often attribute detail with crunch... but I want to separate the two for now.

Crunch, for the purposes of my own journey, is about RULES

What do I mean by a rule? I think it's a permanent fixture within a game that allows players / GMs to repeat a way of doing things. If a ruling is an on-the-fly decision made to handle a specific situation, I think that a rule arises out of an actual or predicted desire to remember and repeat that ruling. Rules lead to consistency in rulings, if you will.

Coming, as I do, from a wargaming background, you can easily note that I enjoy tactical decision-making within the context of small-unit combat. Tactics require an understanding of the variables involved in combat... and a game that tries to handle more variables usually requires a heightened level consistency in how the rulings in similar situations play out. Desire for lots of consistent rulings leads to a desire for crunchier rules.

QUESTION: How much crunch do I want in my own gaming? 
ANSWER: Quite a bit but not too much. 

Reflecting on combat, as an example, I want the ability of the hero to count but I also want the type and quality of his tools to be a factor. That means I want weapons and armour to have some consistent rules. I also like to model injury in more detail. And, yes, I want the training of characters to differentiate them.

But that leads me to...

Crossroad 2: The Action Continuum

Do you want to play games in which the story is contained purely within dialogue and interaction, at one extreme, or entirely focused on a string of tactical combats at the other? 

I've played D&D 4e at the "string of fights end" and realised that I was simply playing a tactical skirmish game. The characterisation was irrelevant. I got bored.

I've played World of Darkness games run by a GM who wanted to avoid any fighting and entirely engage us in dialogues and intrigue. I realised that there ceased to be a tactical challenge because all that was required were my own (inadequate) social skills. As I didn't want to verbally spar with the GM - I do this all day for a living - I withdrew and felt bored.

Reflecting on it, I want a game with a fair amount of tactical challenge - but that doesn't mean simply tactical combat. What I want is a game in which there is a need to think tactically and use the various resources available to each character within the scenario. As GM, I am managing the interests of the opposition to some fairly capable heroes; the players are trying to achieve their goals using their own resources.

Action, for me, is the interaction between conflicting goals that requires the clever deployment of available resources. Thus, in combat, it's about using one set of skills and the available combat equipment well; in negotiation, it's about using another set of skills and the available leverage. 

Which connects me too...

Crossroad 3: The Resource Continuum

Earlier I asked you to take detail out of the Crunch. Resources are, for me, where the detail comes back in.

Detail in a game is about how much different factors and variables matter. This can range from the level of detail in the weapon choices through to how much it matters what species or ethnic grouping your character is from.

Straight away I'm going to point out that different aspects of detail in a setting will have varying effects: if I am wanting to play a Military SF game then my players will probably expect detail in the military details... down to the model of gun and choices of helmet design. Detail in a classical Fantasy setting might be very different, including lots of Races and detail in the magic system. 

I like detail. But I hate detail that slows down the action. Essentially, the "dials" you tweak with detail will have dramatic effects on how things play out at the table.

Why not call it the Detail Continuum? Well... reflecting on it, I realised that details matter when they give you something you can use in a challenge. Something you can use is a Resource. 

Those resources, however detailed, are what actually matters in the game. The level of detail determines what resources might be available.

Setting Out...

Those are the first three choices. More arise from these but, in the interests of brevity, we'll pause and reflect. Each decision, however, affects the shape of both how you GM and which RPG systems you'll prefer. 

As I asked at the start, now I ask again: "What choices do you make as you tread the road to gaming joy?"

Game on!

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Sunday, 1 December 2013


On the one hand, I am sick and tired of learning to play someone else's game. On the other hand, there are some cool games that I have long wanted to learn to play. Traveller5 is one of those games.

Reasons to Play

For one thing, I was involved in the playtest of the system. Bits of this game got tested... but never quite the whole thing.

When I was testing, the biggest missing piece was the combat section of the rules. This came very late and, frankly, I didn't get time to give it as much attention as was needed. 

That's probably one reason why, on first reading of the final book, I couldn't understand how to run a melee.

But that's not answering the question: why play T5?

On dipping my toe back into the waters of T5 over the past 24 hours, here's why I want to play:
  1. I like the d6-based Task Resolution system and use of d6 only for damage - it's simple.
  2. I really like building characters using the Career system and the 4-year Term process.
  3. The system is comprehensive - everything I can imagine needing is in there.
  4. There's a process to allow me to make my own stuff up; you name it, you can probably make it.
  5. It's simple to play - the basic rules are very easy to grasp.

Reasons to Be Put Off

I'm not blind to the flaws of this product. For one, it is a book that initially just made me wince due to layout and the super-dense amount of text. My top five reasons to be put off include:
  1. It's really badly organised - 50 pages in and I'm reading what should be an appendix.
  2. It's really badly written - not just the typos and omissions, but also the style is really poor.
  3. There's too much system and not enough setting - where's the "easy to grasp" equipment list, for example?
  4. It needs a lot of house-rulings to clarify stuff... like, how to run a melee with a weapon in hand.
  5. It's not at all aimed at the beginner. Defo not an RPG beginner. Probably not a Traveller beginner.
In short, it needs a very dedicated Referee (GM) to run a game. You will want to hide the book from the players, ignore just about everything inside the book until you actually need it, and you'll need to dedicate time to prepping the stuff you need. 

Thankfully, there are other Traveller5 Referees out there producing handy resources. Phew! But please share yours too.

So... Why Do You Want To Play?

Because it's Traveller, I have a deep-seated affection for the game and consequent desire to play. I have a deep love of the setting too. 

It's actually a rather simple game at heart. There's just lots of stuff piled on top to hide the fact from the casual reader. Actually, it's so completely piled on you can't really be a casual reader with T5. But it's worth the time to dig in.

Players will pick it up in no time. Referees will be dedicating much time to making games happen... but I get the impression that the effort will be worth it.

I wonder if I'll get to play.

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