It was a normal enough day for the crew of the Citadel-class transport called the Black Rose, currently berthed in a space station dock in orbit around Nar Shaddaa. Drake the Bothan Entrepreneur was trying to balance the crew’s budget after they sold their last ship, the Red Empress. Aralai the Twi’lek Pilot could be heard grumbling in the cockpit about how she had run out of booze the night before. Zeb the Human Mechanic was tinkering with the ship’s modifications, and his younger sister Morgan was putting together a particularly malicious slicing program on her datapad. Patches the B-1 Doctor, Bulldawg the Klatooinian Heavy, and the sundry other members of the crew were keeping to themselves . . . when a loud banging sound echoed on the main hatch. Instead of the usual bounty hunters, when they opened the hatch they found the furious owner of the space dock, screaming about how one of his two shuttles had just been stolen. Drake immediately turned to Zeb and Morgan and asked the dreaded question: “Where’s Barry?”
For the first time, Elliot found himself pulled through a fairy door. He could tell he was in his homeland, but nowhere he had ever been. But when he called to the laughing voice, she responded. Apparently the party’s fates were now intertwined with this being, and at some point in the future, they’d have to choose between the fairy world and the “concrete world”.
Elliot awoke in a cold sweat. Actually, more of a hot sweat. He was prone on the floor in a room he didn’t recognize, surrounded by wisps of steam that he did not know were Mephit corpses. “How long was I out?”
With the mast successfully returned to the pirates, the adventurers began preparing for their trip inland to the Imperial Shelter. When the ship was crewed and outfitted, Salty, the piratical second-in-command had a surprise for the outgoing party. A shabby looking kobold was almost thrown at the adventurers. He was small, even for kobolds, and his ragged clothing was covered in singe marks. Apparently the pirates had picked him up at some point, and wanted him gone.
“I am Weekbadd! Help me prepare for when the First Lizard ends the world in holy fire!”
This was going to be interesting.
Time Travel is a daunting mechanic for any GM to attempt to incorporate in their game. While using time travel as a platform for historical settings and conflicts can be fun, eventually your players are going to ask “wait, what happens if we show Beethoven a recording of his Fifth Symphony before he writes it?” or, even more problematic, “can I go kill my grandfather?” These are questions which, for the sake of the integrity of the concept, can’t be left completely unanswered (though you can probably tell the player trying to kill his own grandfather to drop it before something bad happens). The good thing is that time travel as a game concept leans heavily on improv, and does so in a way that can be very helpful with developing your improv muscles in a fun, non-game breaking way. That’s because with time travel, you can come up with whatever consequences you want…the players already have the mechanism to fix it.
When someone says the word ‘adventurer’, the picture of a steady home life is not often one of the images called to mind. The dusty road, the shadows between the megascrapers, the space between the stars, these are most often the places that adventurers spend their time and make their fortune – or lose everything. While being an adventurer, or really any type of player character. almost universally involves going where others won’t either physically or mentally, I think there’s something to be said for breaking the mold and giving them a tavern, a ship, a base, a business, a home. While it might not be the one they were all born to, a party of adventurers with a place of their own can certainly turn it into a place that makes them feel like they belong.
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.
Back a decade ago, in 2008, I was fascinated by Code Geass, a mecha and fantasy anime series. While looking around I found a forum with people creating their own stories, imagining themselves on different sides of the conflict and imagining their own strategies. I had seen roleplaying threads on other internet forums, but this was something different: an entire board, devoted to making a game to be played. Rules were pretty much non-existent, other than the admins and mods making pointed suggestions, and rewarding players who played out uncomfortable or losing scenarios or roleplayed richly. There were no game mechanics. But I had found my first Play by Post. For me, the roleplaying and storytelling aspect of gaming was the best part and it was often overlooked at my school’s gaming club and the few sessions with friends. This was all about the story, and through that I met two of the people I game with now. As a note, driving out of state to the house of someone you’ve only known online, and not telling people where you are going might not be the safest idea, but it’s how I met a really cool group of people.
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.
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.