Role-playing games are perceived as complex due to their volume of rules. What really makes RPGs complicated, though, is the relative dynamism of these rules and the degree to which they sit in the text. In other words, the rules of a game you must know in order to play an RPG are not limited to those which are printed in the rulebook.
While this of course varies from game to game, it can be generally stated that a board game will contain all the rules necessary to play inside the box. This is not always true with an RPG. Given the significant breadth of concepts that a game could potentially cover, RPGs have usually needed a GM to establish a more concrete set of boundaries which make up a campaign. The key here is that what the GM is doing, from writing the world to tweaking the mechanics to actually running the game, involves making and enforcing rules which are supplemental to those actually written in a book.
Continue reading What Are Rules?
Old games never die, they just get new editions. Some games take big design steps and then walk them back (D&D, WFRP), while others start forking out into multiple, concurrent editions (Traveller and RuneQuest). Others still just revise every concurrent edition, walking a tight balance between satisfying the fanboys and making the game accessible to those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy it the last time around. No game is better suited to tell this perilous story than Shadowrun. Shadowrun was born in the late 80s around the same time as Cyberpunk, but took to that genre with its own twist, adding in magic and Tolkienesque “metahuman” races. Originally developed by FASA, the same design studio behind Battletech, Shadowrun has always had wargaming roots show through by virtue of its complexity and level of detail. This both gained it many fans as well as an intimidating reputation, especially when we’re talking about the first three editions of the game.
Continue reading Shadowrun Sixth World Review
There’s a lot of reasons people say that the RPG hobby is in a golden age right now. Increased legitimacy of the hobby in general, new audiences reaching games through streaming and podcasts, and an exploding variety of types and titles of games make for a more diverse and dynamic hobby than we’ve ever had before. But what do we actually know about the hobby and how it’s growing? What do we know about the competitive dynamics of the industry, from Wizards of the Coast down to the one-man shops? The simple answer to “what do we know” is “not much”. Finding real data about this hobby of ours is a struggle—and that’s when it isn’t downright impossible.
Continue reading RPG Market Data is a Mess
I’ve made plenty of hay over my opinions about D&D. D&D is not a bad game, but it’s such a limited expression of what a role-playing game can look like. The most common counter-argument I get to saying that a gamer should play games other than D&D is somewhere along the lines of “if that’s what they like, that’s what they should play”. This is usually followed by pointing out several more obscure games, which usually look absolutely nothing like D&D, and harping on about how that’s not the play experience they want. And this straw man argument is one of many reasons I’ve decided to sing the praises of the giant middle ground of the hobby, the traditional RPGs.
Continue reading Traditional Games and Why We Love Them
In RPG discussion circles in places like Reddit and Twitter, there has been a fair amount of hay made over the relative absence of ‘critique’ in the RPG realm. As someone who reviews RPGs fairly regularly, this is something which is difficult to parse but ultimately fair. A review aims to go over the traits and writing quality of a game in order to answer whether it is worth buying and worth trying to play. In RPGs (though honestly in all media) reviews skew positive because negative reviews get more negative attention, and because honestly writing 1500 words about something you don’t like simply isn’t fun.
Continue reading Torchbearer In-Depth
Earlier this year Dungeons and Dragons, and, as a result, the role-playing game as a formal, published form, turned 45. It is one of the youngest mediums in entertainment; as a point of comparison the first video game patent was issued in 1948, making that medium over 70. And like video games did with arcades and Atari, role-playing games are beginning to enjoy mainstream recognition, several decades after their genesis. There’s another similarity between video games, consoles specifically, and role-playing games: the first mainstream video game console outsold every competitor it had more than ten to one, just like the first mainstream role-playing game. In video games that was the Atari 2600, and in role-playing games that’s Dungeons and Dragons.
Continue reading Maybe…Don’t Play D&D?
That’s right, the Wonk is back in the building! Today we’re getting super wonky. While my last foray into RPG theory was an examination of an old universal theory, GNS, today I’m going to be looking at a narrower component of games, and a particular dichotomy which, after some examination, I realized shapes the core of how I want to play and run games, as well as what game systems I enjoy. I’m talking about narrative, but I’m not talking about whether a game is “narrative” or not. Rather, I’m going to talk about the two types of narrative which are generated in the course of playing an RPG: Prescriptive and Emergent narrative.
Continue reading Level One Wonk: Narrative
Ho ho ho, holy hell that’s a lot of views! As we enter into the twilight of 2018 and as all of you are home with your families, it’s time once again to reflect on what the year has brought us. My year on the home front has been a difficult one (for reasons I need not get into here), but what we’ve been doing at Cannibal Halfling Gaming has been a continual bright spot for me no matter what else was going on.
Continue reading The Level One Wonk Holiday Special: 2018
Way back when, at the genesis of this site, I wrote a “Novice’s Guide to Powered by the Apocalypse”, a Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) 101, if you will. This article covered the basic mechanics and underlying assumptions of games written with the PbtA framework, and covered a few of the more popular games that were out at the time. Now, nearly two years later, PbtA is still growing, and has attracted many players to its fiction-forward, high-stakes style of gameplay. I’ve also run and played more PbtA games myself, and have noticed some really interesting elements that people have trouble engaging, take for granted, or even fight against. This 201 course to PbtA games should provide advice and information about getting the most out of the full range of PbtA games and campaigns.
Continue reading Level One Wonk: Powered by the Apocalypse 201
Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series was thrust into the spotlight through the work of CD Projekt Red, a Polish game development studio now best known for its games based on the fantasy series. The Witcher RPG, new this year, was the result of an intriguing IP flowchart that connects it to some of the biggest hype in both the video gaming and tabletop gaming space. R. Talsorian Games, publisher of The Witcher RPG, is the company founded by Mike Pondsmith, designer of Cyberpunk 2020. When CD Projekt Red optioned Cyberpunk 2020 for a video game (Cyberpunk 2077), another Talsorian developer, Mike’s son Cody, built out a proposal for a tabletop version of The Witcher and presented it to CD Projekt Red leadership. They accepted, and the resulting game is the one I read and review for you here. Continue reading The Witcher RPG Review