It’s the genre that started it all, and it has set the baseline for what people think of when they hear the term “role-playing game”. It’s a literary genre of astonishing breadth, that still seems to get people thinking about elves and wizards. So why is fantasy role-playing such a different animal than fantasy in general? And what sort of games are hiding in the wings around the 500 pound Gygaxian elephant in the room? Today, the Level One Wonk is going to look around what fantasy role-playing is, how it’s related to fantasy literature, and what that all means when it comes time to sit down and roll dice.
Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for July! This month sees game projects a little thin on the ground, as many people are off at the beach, not running Kickstarters. To make it worse, the dastardly Seamus stole a great Kickstarter, Blackwind Project, out from under my nose and reviewed it already! The nerve! (It’s a Halfling-eat-Halfling world out there. Hence the name. – Ed.) Well, I’ve still managed to gather up ten projects, though there are a few honorable mentions in there to bulk it up. Have no fear though, dear reader: there’s a lot of good stuff in here, and that’s doubly true if you like supers, dieselpunk, or eating game pieces.
After retreating from the crypt, the adventurers went towards the oceanside of the abandoned city and made use of the tools they were able to find. Elliot used an old forge and anvil to rework the broken suits of Enchanted Armor that were fought in the crypt. Out of six suits came one firbolg-sized suit of plate mail, and breastplates for a couple of the others. The treasure from the crypt was buried in the basement, and the adventurers were able to rest under a roof, above ground, and in beds. Before the night fell, Elliot, who had been vexed by the adventurers going in and out of fairy doors, wrote a note in Sylvan and gave it to Hrive. Neither of them knew who or what was causing their compatriots to travel back and forth between the current world and the Feywild, but the two fey in the party were the ones who had the best chance of finding out. Hrive did have the dream of the forest and the thick bushes, but this time the laughing woman gave him a cryptic invitation that sounded like it may have been meant for Elliot. Hrive awoke in a cold sweat, but appeared to have lost little time compared to some of the disappearances of his compatriots.
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.