Let’s say you want an original game. D&D is played out, Star Wars requires dealing with Star Wars fans, and Cyberpunk seems like 1989 cosplay. You’re tired of all these tropes, you say, you want something built from the ground up to be new and strange. Let’s say that this game exists. It’s free, even, and the free PDF is filled with gorgeous art. The entire book is gorgeous because the publisher is a design studio first, and happens to be an exclusive partner with Riot Games. It’s even a second edition, with rules revamped to improve speed of play. This sounds perfect, you think. What’s the catch? Well, there are 720 pages to read and since it is wildly original, you need to read all of it. Welcome to Degenesis: Rebirth.
Comedy RPGs are a tough nut to crack. There are broadly two challenges to writing funny role-playing games, and even the best ones have only overcome one of these two. The first challenge is to create humor from situations and premises that remain relevant. Paranoia is one of the most successful games at doing this, and that’s because ultimately the humor is about RPGs themselves and violating in-game expectations. The second challenge is to create a game that remains funny after the first session. While there’s no formula to solving this challenge yet, leaning on structures from other long-running comedy media is certainly a viable strategy. Teenagers From Outer Space is a comedy game from the mind of Mike Pondsmith, best known as the designer of Cyberpunk. Using tropes from comedy anime, he created a game that is light, smart, and self-aware about how it’s going to be played. Unfortunately, this game is 23 years old (33 years old if you count the first edition) and feels that way, which can lead to some awkward reading in a game about teen romance. Teenagers From Outer Space was given away for free as part of R. Talsorian’s response to the current pandemic, so now is as good a time as ever to take a look.
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.
Reading a game and playing a game are two different experiences, which both teach you different things about the game text, how the rules work, and indeed whether the game is something you enjoy. When it comes to traditionally-styled RPGs, the big hardcovers with lots of art and glossy pages, the reading experience is placed often on equal footing with the play experience. Sometimes the reading experience ends up being better. Eclipse Phase is not quite like that. While Eclipse Phase is a game that draws readers in with a great setting, evocative art, and a fair dose of in-line fiction, the mechanics definitely hold their own, though the game has benefited greatly from revision.
When I first came out, it was a strange time. I had to cope and come to terms with a great many things. Some of them very good. “I can finally wear the clothes I want to.” “People calling me she and her is AWESOME!” “I can be me.” Some of them less so. “God, I was a real little shit before this wasn’t I?” “I can’t tell this person yet. Don’t know how they’ll react.” “How long before I can start hormones?” All in all, it was a wild time. And while things have calmed for me and my transition at this point, there is always one thing that weighs above all else in trials I may never come to terms with.
I never got to grow up as a girl.
I’ve heard it called “The Youth that could have been” from other trans folks who came out older like I did. It happens to quite a few people who have experienced trouble or different from the average childhood. It’s one where you’re constantly thinking about things could have been, How they should have been. It’s one of wondering of “what-ifs” and “why couldn’t it haves”. It sucks. Royally. You look for any out or avenue to get away from the pain of it. From the constant imagination of the childhood you never got to have. That imagination tends to go wild and overpowering.
But. You know what else requires a good imagination? You guessed it: roleplaying games.
What is an RPG? There’s a question that could send you down a rabbit-hole. At least one person per possible answer is already out there, ready to spew hate at you from Twitter. What’s an RPG book? That one, in theory, should be a little easier. An RPG book, whether we mean a physical book or a PDF, is the document that enables you to play an RPG. These can be core rulebooks, they can be setting books, or they can be supplements for either the setting or the rules, but they are, broadly speaking, the documents in which an RPG is contained. So what does that look like? You may be imagining text, some tables and charts, and probably some pictures. As much as these books vary, you probably think you know what the next RPG manual you crack open is going to look like. That’s why you need to crack open Mörk Borg.
You and your friends gathered around this place today for something special. To participate in a spectacle than you would never quite see in our daily lives. A story being woven, of valiant heroes, with strength as fierce their virtues. Of the dastardly villains, imbued with a ferocity of their wickedness. You will witness villains become heroes. Heroes become villains. The brutalist of battles. Mightiest of hugs. The bitterness of betrayal and the triumph of cavalry. This is a world where everything gets just a little bit more magical.
This is pro wrestling.
Now, while the surface level of the two may seem to have very little in common, I’ve honestly found that my knowledge of pro wrestling has helped me become a better GM for my players. Pro wrestling is the world but amplified. The emotions. The dramatics of pain. The sweetness of victory. Everything has the knob grasped and twisted all the way over. Which, let’s be honest, relates well to RPGs.
As you may have guessed from my previous articles, I enjoy podcasts. RPG actual play podcasts in particular. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional stream. But podcasts have just such a relaxing quality to them that I can’t understate. The fact you just whip out your phone, pop in some headphones and throw one on. It’s fun to have these stories pour into your ears.
And, as you may have also noticed, I enjoy Masks: A New Generation. It’s easily my favorite RPG and in my opinion, does the best job of emulating superheroes of any tabletop RPG on the subject. It’s just good teen superheroes that are a mask (See what I did there) for the angst and drama of teenage life.
So it should come as now surprise that Masks actual plays are one of my favorite things in the world. I was waiting on bated breath for season 3 of Young Justice for so long, and discovering there’s a whole catalogue of stories that deliver the hits of that show so regularly was more than welcome.
And when James Malloy of Protean City Comics and Stop. Hack. And Roll! Podcasts set up a cross podcast tournament based around voting polls for Masks podcasts, I was ecstatic. I was writing fanfics, interacting with the community and making memes (God, did I make so many memes) left, right and center on Twitter. It’s an amazing time to see a community come together to just have fun.
And I thought:
“Hey! I write articles on awesome subjects. And this is an awesome subject. Why don’t I write an article on this?”
And surprise, surprise, I did! So sit back. Relax, Open up a favorite drink. And maybe you’ll find a podcast here to listen to.
Us RPG fans are a creative bunch. We kind of have to be for this hobby. It’s the lifeblood of it, isn’t it? You gotta think of what your character says when their best friend reveals a deep dark secret to you. You need to come up with a quick witted comeback to an insult from the mercenaries in the tavern who are just begging to have their teeth kicked in. You embody a character. And that requires creativity.
And the thing about creativity? It’s entertaining. We’ve all shared a deep laugh when someone at the our game table makes a joke that just fits so well for that scene. We wait on baited breath when our players finally confront that baron who’s been making their lives hell. We see these stories being played out in front of us. And even when we are not directly participating, it’s fun. It’s engaging. It’s a story.
And what’s to stop us from letting those on the outside of the table engage with these stories too?
Having a con ‘season’ of sorts is a new experience for me, with PAX East 2020 following close on the heels of PAX Unplugged 2019 (thank goodness attending South wasn’t remotely an option), meaning that I’m going into this work week pretty darn exhausted . . . and with oodles, noodles, and toaster strudels of new content to write about! Let’s talk a bit about the con at large, and then get down to the details with some games.