Category Archives: Ask The Readers

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Am I getting old or just lazy? – 2014 Edition

In 2009 I already wrote about my aversion of rules-heavy games. In these last 5 years I noticed that I have become even more picky when it comes to rules systems. The trend that I preferred rules light games has continued. Since I am not getting younger, things which were pretty easy to me five or ten years ago are now getting more difficult.

Back in the day, learning new rules wasn’t that big a deal. Nowadays it’s much more difficult. One reason is that certain ways to do things are almost hardwired into my brain, so that it takes me longer to understand new concepts. You might remember my long struggle with Fate.

I also don’t have that much time anymore. The same goes for my players. Learning new rules and then teaching them to my players just takes too much of our precious time. That’s why I try to stick to games which are simple to pick up and play.

Back in 2009 rules-medium games like Savage Worlds were still in my comfort zone, but today I’ve moved further towards lighter rule systems. Savage Worlds in particular has a couple of quirks I just can’t stand anymore. I really liked the card-based initiative back in the day, but nowadays it feels uneccessarily gimmicky. I also don’t need all the tactical option its combat system offers. I prefer quick and mostly narrative combats.

One of my favorite systems is Monte Cook’s Cypher System (which has been used in Numenera and The Strange). It’s very easy to learn, but still offers players a lot of intersting options. What I like in particular is that the system is 100% player-facing and that monsters are basically described by their level. It’s extremely easy to come up with NPCs on the fly. And since I don’t have to roll dice as a GM, I am not tempted to fudge with roll results.

Recently I have often thought about Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe System. It’s even easier than the Cypher System and works perfect for anything investigation-related. I am pretty sure you could even run a fantasy game with it, or anything else really – as long as the player characters are competent professionals and there’s at least some investigation involved. Gumshoe is mostly player-facing but not to 100%. But that’s easily houseruled.

While I love some of the ideas of Fate, I am slowly moving away from it. In theory everthing sounds perfectly reasonable and simple but on the game table I notice that I just don’t use it correctly – especially in the heat of the moment. I guess my brain is stuck in more traditional thought processes and Fate just works too differently. Fate is definitely a very good game BUT it takes me too much effort to get into the mindset needed to run this game. On the other hand, you could probably wake me at 3 am and I would be able to run Numenera.

As a GM I am pretty good at improvising. I don’t like to prepare a lot beforehand and usually I can come up with a good plot on the fly. What I need are rules systems that support this kind of GMing. The Cypher System does that and I think it might work in Gumshoe, too. I faintly remember that either Robin Laws or Kenneth Hite actually wrote a post about improvisation and the Gumshoe System. A special case is the new D&D 5th Edition. It definitely feels a bit more crunchy than both the Cypher System and Numera, but I’ve played D&D for about twenty to twenty-five years now and so a lot of the D&Disms are probably etched deeply into my brain, so it doesn’t feel as complex as other games.

Overall I still like checking out new rules systems, but I definitely prefer rules-light games which are not too far away from traditional gaming. There are many great indie games out there, but even though a lot of them use pretty easy rules, it often takes a lot of effort to get into the right mindset… and I guess I am getting too old for that. Zwinkerndes Smiley

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Generic RPGs: Do we really need those?

Yes, the caption is meant to be controversial. If it works for big media, why not for me? Smiley mit geöffnetem Mund But in all seriousness, what is the big deal with generic rules systems like GURPS, Fate, and others?

A friend of mine came up with the question earlier today. He’s no fan of generic system. He prefers the “one book – one system” model. If he wants to play Star Wars, he picks the Star Wars RPG from the shelf. If he wants fantasy, he picks up D&D. And if you think about it, this is something you don’t see that often in other types of games. There is no generic strategy boardgame ruleset which comes with various expansion for different settings or genres. You don’t see this with video games either.

If we look at the history of RPGs we notice that the first modern RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (1974), was basically generic. It was meant for fantasy, yes, but there was no setting. The game assumed that the GM came up with his own stuff. Nowadays D&D is more than just the rules. Settings like the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk are part of what we call “D&D” today. But things have been vastly different a few decades ago.

While it didn’t take long for RPGs written with a setting in mind were released, but generic RPGs still were very popular. In my opinion the main reason is that GMs still love to create their own worlds. And this is much easier if the rule system you use doesn’t shoehorn you into a certain genre or setting. Continue reading

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When You Realize that You’re the Baddy

I have always been interested in history and I always found it quite intriguing to play in historic roleplaying games. So it was of course no surprise that I backed Achtung! Cthulhu which combines Lovecraftian elements with the history of WW2. For most of my readers playing in such a game has no special significance. The vast of majority of my readers is from one of the countries who were known as the Allies in WW2. But for me – as a German – things are a bit different. My people were the bad guys back then.

I am usually a very mild-mannered and peaceful person, but there’s one thing I particularly hate: fascism. Fascists and Nazis make me terribly angry. For me (and probably you as well) the Hitler regime was definitely what we’d call the bad guys. So if I’d ever play in such a game I’d probably play an Allied soldier or something similar. It just wouldn’t feel right for me to play one of the supporters of said regime. I think I could portray Nazi NPCs as a GM, but never as a player. It just feels terribly wrong.

Because of our history I always hesitated to actually run a game set in WW2. I am sure there are many interesting stories to be told, but I fear it’s hard to do it in a proper way that also respects the victims of the war. I guess I might be overthinking things. Perhaps it’s because I always try to do the right thing. My question to you, my dear readers, is how do you see this? Would you play one of the bad guys? Do you think that topics like the Holocaust can be properly handled in a roleplaying game? How do you deal with your home country’s history in a roleplaying enviroment?

Since this is a very serious and complicated topic, please let me try to end the post on a lighter note: