All posts by Peter R.

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I think I mentioned this before but when my group get together and game it happens two or three times a year. We rent a house, the one we have used for the past few years happens to be called Rivendell which is quite fitting, and we game all weekend. While we game we each have a sofa or armchair, when I GM I have a small side table for books and dice and it is pretty relaxed.

It sounds cool and it is but it also makes a lot of choices for us. For a start using minis is a real problem. We are all so far apart that no one would be able to see any real tactical detail we are all too lazy to get up and have a look. So that means that battle maps are out as well.

The games I was looking at last year had features like a momentum dice and counters. Well without a table to put them on these are not going to work.

Michael was the first person I saw that showcased the index card role playing game in this post. Although I really liked the concept it was going to be a non-starter for us because we are too far apart for that sort of interplay.

We are no longer the Knights of the Dinner Table, we are more like sofa sorcerers.

Being a sofa sorcerer means that you end up more organised. The rulebook you need could be right on the far side of the room and sofas are harder to get out of than dining room chairs (that sounds lame but it is true!). So when I am plotting an adventure I copy and paste the rules for specific situations right into my notes. If there is a chance of drowning then I have the drowning rules to hand. Each character has all their spells and the spell descriptions copied and attached to their character sheet, or playbook is a better phrase. So now there is no bottleneck while all the spell casters need to check which spell to cast or whether they think it will work or not. My current party has 5 PCs and they are all spell casters to a lesser or greater extent.

I don’t have a GMs screen but I have created a simple PDF of just the rules or tables I need and I keep this on a 10″ tablet. It is only about 8 pages so flicking back and forth is quick and easy. So I have pretty much ‘organised the books out of the game’. I still have them because there is nothing to stop the PCs from going completely off piste if that is how they decide to go. I certainly do not railroad my players even if I have prepared an adventure.

Because we only play a few times a year our games gravitate more towards hack and slash. This is not my first choice but with months between sessions remembering subtle clues is simply not going to happen. Unless I arrange a mystery that is all wrapped up in a weekend of gaming clue based adventures are not likely to work. You can forget political plots completely.

Another reason for not needed a GMs screen is that none of us have the eyesight anymore to read the GMs notes upside down anyway.

So are there any advantages to this laid back gaming style?

Firstly, you can game for many hours more when you are comfortable than sat on a hard dining room chair. People seem to take less breaks and we can go on for 15 to 18 hours on continuously being in character baring food breaks. The most likely cause for the session to end is when the dwarf starts snoring and even that could be in character.

When you give your players space I have noticed that the characters develop mannerism. The players start to create mannerisms, gestures and all sorts of non-verbal elements to their characters. I used to work in an office where I was the only man, my colleagues would chair dance when certain songs came on the radio. My players have started to act out their characters especially discussions within the party because they have the space to do so.

Another quirk of this style of play is that with the diminished amount of books needed we have been known to relocate outside to a garden table. You cannot see the tablet in this photo but the little pile at the end of the table is the sum total of all my campaign notes and rulebooks for the weekend.
In contrast, these are the rulebooks for a single afternoon session for a friend that GMs me occasionally.


So what is the point of this post?

I think the point is that where we each come from informs our choices and opinions. I felt I was quite down on some aspects of the games I looked at and aspects that I didn’t much like were the use of counters or visual aids like the momentum dice. You can see from this why it would not work for my hardcore laid back Rolemaster players.

It also colours my desire for rules light games. I can make just about anything rules light. Rolemaster has a reputation for being rules heavy but looking at my GM setup and you can see that it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I can run an ultralight game with all necessary rules on one piece of paper, although I do need to use both sides. That, though, is a post for another day.

Tomes of Cthulhu

Bear with me on this one…

Recently I have looked at the Fria Ligan games. I like their mechanics and it satisfies my desire for a rules lite but flavour rich game. In these games there has been one mechanic I didn’t like, momentum in Conan and Darkness points in Coriolis but…

I was walking our dogs earlier and I started day dreaming about a game, for want of a better title, called Terror:Year Zero. It would be the standard Mutant engine but replace these momentum/darkness points with Insanity points and you have yourself a pretty little rules lite Cthulhu game.

The reason I am thinking about Cthulhu is twofold. Over on my own blog we are talking about how to run a Cthulhu game using Rolemaster as a core system. It would be fairly easy to do as the rules are skills based just like the original Chaosium game. What was D100 roll under becomes  d100 + skill. Spacemaster has all the rules for guns and the rules sell as PDFs for just $5 each now.

The second reason is that a friend, who creates RPG supplements sent me a copy of the PDF in the title, Tomes of Cthulhu.

Tomes of Cthulhu

This book details 40 tomes, books or journals for use in a Cthonian(?) game. They come complete with their history and the circumstances of their creation of known, details of the authors, where the book was lost or found and so on. As there are Cthulhu games set in a great many time periods the pdf details not only the origins of the books but the time period between writing and discovery, a hand written journal in 1928 could just be mouldering sheets by 1982. The book also deals with whether books have been copied, the nature of the copies and their locations.

Magic is also covered as some books contain arcane knowledge, the types of spells that could be discovered and the the implications, including madness/insanity.

A sample page is below so you can get a real feel for that this supplement offers.

If you like your Cthulhu gaming then this supplement is definitely worth taking a look at.

Coriolis

I have spent some of my down time over Christmas reading up on Coriolis from free league publishing.

I was super impressed with Mutant:Year Zero with its beautifully simple skill resolution mechanics, the D6, D66 and D666 scalability and even a neat little combat system that was both fast to play yet had the graphic critical damage effects that move combat into the narrative.

If you read my take on Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed and the 2d20 system you will know I was far from taken with the game mechanics of that system.

So what do I think of Coriolis?

My background is very much in Rolemaster, that is what started this little tour of alternative systems. Coriolis feels like Rolemaster in miniature. By that I mean in Rolemaster we are used to a characters defined through their skills the same as Coriolis; Characters can have Talents and Flaws in Rolemaster whereas Coriolis has Talents and Problems; I am used to  a whole rainbow of difficulty factors for skill tests from routine to near impossible; graduated levels of success, in Rolemaster that is typically failure, partial success, success, absolute success, in Coriolis it goes failure, limited success, critical success. The latest Rolemaster rules use a 4 action point system per round and Coriolis uses 3 action points. Throughout the rules I have read so far Coriolis looks and feels like a D6 version of Rolemaster. The clever use of the D66 where needed bridges the gap from the granular D100 to the broad strokes of the d6.

I mentioned Conan earlier for one reason. There was a mechanic in that game that I detested, momentum and consequences, and that rears its ugly head again in Coriolis but this time in the guise of Darkness points.

In Rolemaster circles there is a concept of ‘flurry of blows’. The logic goes like this, a combat round is 10 seconds long and you are more than capable of swinging your sword more than once in 10 seconds. So the attack roll you make is not your only attack that round, it is the attack that was most likely to succeed. In reality you actually made many feints, parries and attacks in that 10 seconds. Flurry of blows is almost universally reviled by the players, partly because melee attacks are flurry of blows but spells are not, one fireball is one fireball, missile attacks are not flurries, an arrow is an arrow or a spear is a spear. The rules are not consistent.

Corriolis is based around flurry of blows and it suffers with the same breakdown in coherency when it comes to throws spears, axes or arrows which are quite clearly discrete. I agree that you do not need to count every bullet, Spacemaster used a count of bullets for guns that had small magazines but just a generic ‘burst’ for semi and automatic weapons. You didn’t need to know how many bullets were in each burst but you could still track when the magazine or bullet belt was empty. Coriolis uses the flurry of blows or burst of bullets concept for all the attacks and for me it breaks the suspension of disbelief. I end up feeling like guns are filled with miniature Schrodinger’s cats and until you check what is in the magazine or pull the trigger your bullets may or may not exist.

I know the argument is that if you have to track bullets then it is just more bookkeeping but the flip of that is that there are opportunities for dramatic tension when a player is down to the last few rounds and the enemy are at the door.

So that is quite enough about the game mechanics…

Coriolis as a game

I firmly believe that the setting is all important in a game. Coriolis uses a wonderful fusion of Sci Fi and the Arabian Nights to create a rather mystical FireFly-like game backdrop. I am a really enthusiastic about this set up. I read the Arabian Nights again earlier this year (2017) so I was already on board from the very first paragraph.

Now, here is an interesting thing. I played in a Spacemaster game last year and having read the adventure The Dark Flowers I am convinced that the adventure I played through was the sample adventure from Coriolis. So technically I have never played Coriolis, and you know I don’t feel that happy reviewing games I have not played, I have played the sample adventure. Now I am looking at it with a GM’s eye I think it is an excellent introduction. It also points to the quality of the Coriolis materials.

Incidentally, I don’t know if this is a coincidence but the ‘feel’ of the page layout and design is very much like Eclipse Phase from Posthuman Studios. It could be that this is just a page layout ‘style’ and the fact that both games are Sci Fi and relatively rules lite in my experience.

So over all I cannot really fault the game design, the quality of the materials, the setting or anything. There is one game mechanic I don’t like, but I would house rule around that if I ran the game. That is personal preference.

Finally…

If you have read my recent mini series on GM Emulators, I find it very interesting how the consequences mechanic from both Coriolis and Conan have so much in common with the plot twist mechanics in the GM Emulators. This may sound like a contradiction that I advocate GM emulators for collaborative play but when the same mechanics turn up in a game I object to it. The difference is that when using a GM Emulator there is no plot before you start play and the entire world is created and unfolds before you as you play. The consequences mechanic in these games on the other hand changes the reality for the characters explicitly based upon a bad roll. It just smacks too much of roll playing and not role playing.

And finally, finally,

Happy New Year!