Ah, GURPS. One of the most comprehensive toolkits on the RPG market, GURPS and its plethora of supplements offer the ability to play in almost any genre at almost any complexity level. The tradeoff here is that when you open the GURPS Basic Set for the first time, you are dazzled and overwhelmed by a vast range of options to select, dials to adjust, and levers to pull. Coming from a game like D&D, a GM starting with GURPS isn’t going to know where to, ahem, start. Steve Jackson Games realized that, and recruited two GURPS veterans to write How To Be A GURPS GM. While this slim volume is thin on generalizable GMing advice (with admittedly good reason), it does exactly what it says on the tin, and provides some guidance on how to actually make GURPS do what you want it to do.
So far, System Hack has highlighted Seamus working through the process of writing a hack for an existing role-playing game, specifically a mecha hack for Genesys. In my first System Hack outing, I’m going broad, super broad! We’re not talking about a specific hack, or even a specific game. Instead, I’m going to talk about a design choice that is so prevalent, so widely assumed, so transparent, that it’s not a given that everyone will give it much thought. What’s that, you may ask? Well, it’s dice. Good old dice.
Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk! The month of June was an embarrassment of riches for RPG Kickstarters, but I’ve taken on the sobering duty of narrowing the month down to my top ten projects. Here you see some inventive games, some games by rising stars in game design, and some games that just need to be seen. Check it out!
Horror gaming has a long and storied history, starting as far back as 1981 with Call of Cthulhu. When Vampire: The Masquerade came out a decade later, new fans were drawn into RPGs by the appeal of a game that combined horror, violence, and romance. Both of these properties are still going strong, alongside other games that emphasize the supernatural (like Urban Shadows) or the Mythos (like Delta Green). When you combine the popularity of these games with the multitude of genres that use horror elements (Ravenloft or Warhammer in fantasy, Eclipse Phase in science fiction), it’s easy to see that horror is a big draw at the gaming table, even if it can be difficult to do right. Here to help, for one of the unlikeliest systems possible, is Evil Hat, with the Fate Horror Toolkit.
The adventurers rested, either leaning against the altar with weapons in hand, or scrambling around the spare furnishings of the temple. The Shadows moved faster than Folk did, and they didn’t have much time until the ten of them that were released found the way up and out of the crypt. Ander and Jethro found glass bottles in the Undertaker’s apartment and filled them with water for their skins, setting the bottles and some of the silver they gathered from the Keep in front of Hugh, who performed a ceremony to bless the water. Holy water seemed to be a potent ally in the fight against what was to come. Clouds gathered over the temple, and the adventurers prepared for a fight. As the sky darkened, the adventurers scrambled to the squares of sunlight made by the overhead windows; shadows didn’t usually exist in daylight, and the adventurers needed all the help they could get. The Shadows ascended the crypt stairs in groups of two and three, met by eldritch blasts, sacred weapons, and holy water. Now, with time to prepare and adequate supplies, the adventurers drove back the Shadows with only a few wounds and a little strength sapped. Not yet ready to return to the crypt, Hrive went outside the walls to retrieve his mule, and the group foraged old abandoned gardens for food. Sleep came easier in the keep without gnolls to harry them, but the adventurers were still wary.
Theories are tools for understanding and explaining any number of different subjects. As role-playing games began to increase in subject matter breadth, there immediately followed an attempt to explain what different games do, and what games do best. Unsurprisingly, attempts to “explain” the range of games on the market were typically incomplete and sometimes dreadfully inaccurate. Despite this, some theories stuck around, usually because they were punchy and easy to remember, and were “close enough” to work as a shorthand. Today, the Level One Wonk is going to look a bit at game design theory, and use one of the most popular theories as a springboard to discussion about RPG Theory as a whole and what it’s trying to accomplish. As George Box once said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” That is the best way to understand many RPG Theories, including the GNS Model.
There are stories that require a different approach than the traditional party-based RPG. Epic stories, with scales vastly larger than just the four to six people in an adventuring party, have proven difficult in this format, though many have tried. A story-game approach can give the flexibility for telling big stories; that was one of the thoughts behind Ben Robbins’s games Kingdom and Microscope. Now, there is a new designer entering the space: Aaron Reed has created a story-game of epic science fiction stories, Archives of the Sky.
Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for May! There are tons of games out there, and as usual, it can be tough to narrow down to a reasonable number. This month I’m highlighting nine games and a tenth category, into which at least three of this month’s games fell. In thinking about this spread of projects, it made it clear to me that I needed to ask a very direct question: what makes a project stand out? What makes a game that can advance or expand the hobby? These ten games all provided a good answer to those questions, whether I’d choose to pick them up for my personal library or not.
When Genesys was released late in 2017, it was a product with a lot of promise for fans of generic systems. As shown in our review, the core rulebook presented the Narrative Dice System from FFG’s earlier Star Wars games in a clear manner with a lot of solid design tools for aspiring hackers and designers. At the same time, the amount of supporting material in the core book was thin, especially when it came to pre-existing items and opponents. Realms of Terrinoth is the first supplement for Genesys, and gamers are expecting that this supplement and the ones that follow will fill the gaps in the core book. From my read, they won’t be disappointed. In addition to a comprehensive gazetteer of Terrinoth and other areas in the world of Mennara, Realms of Terrinoth includes all the necessary widgets to run a fantasy game in Genesys, whether you use the Runebound setting or create your own.
Historical RPGs are having a moment in the sun in the 2010s. Thanks to more focused games becoming the norm, it becomes possible to drill down into a historical event in a way that the market didn’t accept earlier on. In the 20th century, a historical RPG looked more like Pendragon, which spans the entire Arthurian era and can cover literally generations of play. Now, a historical RPG looks more like Night Witches, focusing on one smaller cast of characters in a fascinating corner of the Second World War. Splitting the difference between those two is Revolutionaries, a fascinating game from Make-Believe Games which focuses on the American Revolutionary War.