In January 2023 I crossed off a New Year’s Resolution: I completed a campaign I was running. It seems like a smaller accomplishment, considering that I’ve been gaming off and on for close to 20 years now, and my group is filled with veterans who have run at one point or another. But for me, this is the one time I managed not only to run a game, but had a story arc that was completed and brought to (by most accounts) a satisfying resolution.
There have been failures. Over the years, I have tried to run a variety of things, from Blades in the Dark to Star Wars. I even managed to get a few sessions of Traveller strung together. For a variety of reasons these failed to move past one-shots, never materialized, or just fell apart. This happens. Aaron has written about situations just like it.
So as I look back over the game that did succeed, it’s time to run a post-mortem to know what worked and what didn’t for when I get back in the saddle to run again. You know, after my sanity restores a bit.
Continue reading My First Complete Campaign →
PAX Unplugged returned to Philadelphia this year, marking the fifth time the convention has taken place. I was fortunate enough to attend this year, making it the third year I’ve managed to go. Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank the organizers for a few things: One, for continuing to choose Philadelphia as the site. I think that the area and community are an excellent fit with abundant transportation, housing, and food for a bunch of tabletop nerds, along with a city that prides itself on inclusivity. Philadelphia has gotten some bad press as of late, but I never felt anything but safe and welcome as I walked through, to, and from the event space. Second, I want to thank them for the amount of logistics and cat wrangling it takes to get a group of tabletop gamers to do anything. My GMing has increased since my last visit to the convention, and with it so has my appreciation for the work that it takes to get this rolling each year. This year, the team made sure that getting through the door was about as pain free as possible despite requiring proof of vaccination along with the necessary ticketing and security checks for entry. So I absolutely want this convention to keep going.
Continue reading A Return to PAX Unplugged (2022 Quick Recap) →
A while ago I had a bit of a hot take off the press. At the time I had played the Beginners Box for Legend of the Five Rings 5th edition produced by Fantasy Flight Gaming and then, in purely coincidental timing, played in a campaign of 4th edition that had been written by AEG. Excited, and with childhood memories rekindled, I ran to write up the differences I have seen between the two. So, why do I mention it?
It’s been a few years since that article was written, and the world proceeded to break time with the years of 2020 and 2021. With a slew of personal life changes, and with a need for incredible caution for social gatherings, my choice in games became dictated by what I could find online. Over the last two years, I’ve had a healthy diet of games run in 4th edition and finally had the chance to build characters and play in a campaign using the full 5th edition rules. As I reflected, I began to wonder: had I done a disservice by rushing to put something out? Sometimes we become too excited at a new prospect, and become so eager to champion it that we don’t get the full picture. There is also another element in play now as well: time. Back when I did my first crack at a System Split, FFG were the new kids on the block, with their hands on a shiny new property and some interesting ideas on how to freshen things up. Now, not only have they released the full rules and published several expansion books for Legend of the Five Rings and reorganized. EDGE Studio has now taken over the IP, and while books continue to be published, and the system itself remains mostly intact, I feel like it’s worth circling back and taking a deeper, more nuanced dive into the differences between the two systems. Overall, with some time and space, I have come to believe that FFG created their version with a firm eye on past editions, but there are noticeable differences that might sway both gamerunners and players in one direction or the other.
Continue reading System Split Redux: Legend of the Five Rings (AEG and FFG/EDGE) →
I’ve previously written about the The Pirates of Drinax, and I believe that it’s for good reason. It is one of my favorite published campaigns, and I would argue that it is the best I have ever seen in terms of being a true sandbox. It begins with a promise that the players are being brought in to take a miniscule star nation operating between two behemoths, and to make it an Empire in its own right and not only is it possible, it offers a chance to have the players take an active stance in the government that is formed. The campaign is not only flexible enough that it offers the ideas that players might want to spurn their patron and carve out a kingdom of their own, but it actively sets rules for how to go about it. There is a story seed for virtually every planet, for which there are multiple populating each of dozens of subsectors. You could likely make an entire campaign about dealing with the Pirate Lords of Theev, a group of politically insulated pirates that operate out of a planet is a surprisingly open secret. All of this is on top of a ten module progression of the campaign as players take a single ship and try to form a pirate flotilla.
And as much as I love it, I do not think I will ever run another session using the rules as written. So, it was with a bit of hesitation that I picked up the Drinaxian Companion. Yet, as a result, I have found my interest rekindled.
Continue reading Traveller: Drinaxian Companion Review →
Every so often, I look at a game, and make an impulse purchase sight unseen. Sometimes it’s a follow up to a campaign that I have previously waxed eloquent about, others it is a supplement to a system that opens up rules for something I had envisioned, or has a high concept that is so unique that I can’t help but look. Other times, it is because it promises the ability to play in fictional works I love so much that I can’t help but churn out a cry of “Shut Up and Take My Money!” It’s the last of these that triggered an irresistible pull to Rookie Jet’s Over Arms.
Continue reading Over Arms Review →
Space…the final frontier. The mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no-wait, I am being informed that we are talking about the wrong Star Noun here!
Joking aside, I am a firm believer that the Star Wars Universe has a vast potential to tell stories of different genres. The original Star Wars was born out of a desire to make an updated retelling the serials of the 1930’s and 40’s, of which there was a slew of westerns, swashbucklers, even noir mysteries, but probably one of the most famous update of these serials was another George Lucas project, the other trilogy that he is famous for, the most famous Action Archaeologist, Indiana Jones. As it so happens, Star Wars is absolutely chock full of single biome planets, abandoned temples, strange creatures, hostile natives and an ever present lingering group of fascists looming over the horizon. On top of that, there is the Unknown Regions, a vast regions of space that are uncharted on the hyperlanes. All of the tools for stories about exploration and colonization, and offers the chance to look hard the effects of those on the planets you visit. This cocktail actually is a great mix to harken back to Gentleman Adventurer tropes of Alan Quartermain, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days and Herge’s Tintin, but perhaps with an extra hundred years of hindsight to explore some of the ramifications of that your characters are doing. One eye on the past, and one eye on the future? That sounds like an excellent mix for exploring the great beyond!
Continue reading Meet the Party: Star Wars “Final Frontier” →
I miss the old days. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Things are better now, without a doubt. The Empire took everything from us that made us who we are. It ripped apart our most sacred monuments, it dismantled every part of our government that we prided ourselves in. It took our children away to be “reeducated”, they even took the spirit of the land itself away from us. But while they were directly in front of our faces, we hated them with unfettered ferocity. Before, in our old lives, you would have had a scion of a rival family that you would have been obligated to feud with for tradition’s sake. Now, they were in the work camp right next to you, swinging the same pickaxe. At the end of the day you both were literally too tired to care. The Arbiter saw that and knew what he could do with it. We were able to unite, to ignore generations of contempt for each other because our contempt for the Empire was so much greater. After bitter struggle we have at least some measure of ourselves back, but we bear scars: monuments defiled, power structures crippled, refugees who barely remember their old lives pouring back. Even the magic of the land itself has begun to forget us. But as those things are far from normal, our old rivalries have begun anew as every old faction, necessary in our struggle, now wants their voice heard. While we’re Free from the Yoke, we risk forgetting a grave truth: the Empire is still out there. It has not forgotten.
Continue reading The Independents: Free From the Yoke →
Let’s face it, some of the most popular RPGs out there are part of popular franchises. It’s hardly something to complain about. Roleplaying comes out of investment in a story, and a lot of things that hook people is a universe in which they are already immersed. I don’t believe that it is an accident that we’ve written a number of articles that include the Star Wars, Mistborn, and Witcher RPGs, nor that there are numerous iterations of RPGs based off of pop culture phenomena (I am personally aware of Buffy, Firefly and Doctor Who RPGs) as well as my personal experience with GMs use Genesys as a universal system to build games in the Harry Potter and the Stormlight Archive universes. Even for systems that were always games first there is an impressive amount of lore that has been generated over the years in novels, such as the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden in the Forgotten Realms or Theo Bell in Vampire the Masquerade, and for any players these stories are distinctive part of what they love.
This leads to what I refer to as the “fanfic quandary”. The reason why you pick a work of fiction to base your own story on is that you want to immerse yourself in it, but how do you make your mark on that universe? Players generally want to have agency, want to be the heroes (or villains) of the day, but how do they do so when that work’s main character is the Chosen One.Well, the problem is not unique to RPGs. The aforementioned “fanfic” can get a bad rap, but quite a few have turned out interesting over the years, and as previously mentioned some have been officially licensed novels, so why not take a look at some of the techniques these writers use and see the potential benefits and pitfalls.
Continue reading Using Fanfiction Tropes to Maneuver Canon in Roleplaying Games →
Exploration has been baked into humanity from our earliest history. It has inspired epic journeys, discoveries and legends that have shaped us. So, of course it would seem natural that our wanderlust and thirst for the unknown would lead us deep into the reaches of space. However, with that discovery has always come an immediate complication: who owns what’s newly discovered. It wouldn’t be humanity without quarreling over it, and with an entire sector of recently settled space, you better believe that there is room to move that petty bickering to a (literally) astronomical scale, and with Mongoose’s newest splatbook, Traveller: Behind the Claw, there is material for a resourceful GM to build for years.
Continue reading Traveller: Behind the Claw Review →
Well, I have a moment before things might be getting hectic, so I wanted to share some overall impressions and observations about the totality of PAX Unplugged so far. First, I want to say that overall I see a vast improvement in organization from last year. Lines are shorter, and there are more options and backups to keep people happy. The decision to keep one main entrance seems to be paying off dividends, in that people are processed a lot faster to get in the action. Do I miss being able to pop out exits for a bite at a local market without walking all the way back around? Maybe a little, but the overall wait time is shorter, and the end result means that I am hanging around the con and exploring more.
Continue reading PAX Unplugged 2019: Day 3 Log →