Category Archives: Other Systems

Truly Collaborative

I am starting my reading up on Corolis but this is going to take a while so I thought I would give you a mini series based around GM emulators.

With the discussion last week about making money from blogging and RPGs I was conscious that cycle of read a game, plug a game, post link to game could seem a bit mercenary. So I thought a few posts on something completely different before Christmas could be interesting. So with the preamble out of the way…

I have noticed a fashion with newer games where the emphasis is tending away from the GM designing the setting, then the world, then the adventure and then presenting it to players. The new, to me, way seems to be that the players and GM get together and make collective choices about the world. The FATE Core System book says “Both players and gamemasters also have a secondary job: make everyone around you look awesome. Fate is best as a collaborative endeavor, with everyone sharing ideas and looking for opportunities to make the events as entertaining as possible.” The bold is added by me.

So what if everyone and no one was the GM?

A GM Emulator is a method of getting GM-like decisions without having a GM. The emulator is actually a set of rules with tables and dice which is pretty much how we all solve every problem in RPGs anyway. This is not really any different to when you ask the GM a question and the GM rolls a quick D6 to come up with a choice. You want to know if any town guard are patrolling the market place and the GM had not intended any real action to happen here so he rolls a d6, One to three for yes and our or more for no.

So here is a really quick and massively over simplified example. Three goblins decide they want to play a game tonight. They are called Stargazer, Sunglar and Peter. They possess one copper piece between them with a severed head on one side and a scorpion on the other (it is a goblin farthing obviously). No one can be trusted to be GM because that is not the way goblin society works. So they are going to use the copper piece as a GM emulator.

First we need a setting or a world…

Stargazer Goblin asks “Is this a fantasy game?”, tossing the coin it comes up scorpions (tails) for ‘No’. He then passes the coin to Sunglar Goblin.

Sunglar Goblin asks “Is there magic in this world?” tossing the coin it comes up severed head, ‘Yes’. He then passes the coin to Peter Goblin.

So we are in a modern or Sci Fi universe but there is magic, Peter Goblin asks “Are we rebels fighting an evil empire?”, severed head, Yes.

Finally, Stargazer Goblin looking at the questions already asked and the current buzz in the media asks “Is this the Star Wars universe?” the answer comes back as a heads/yes.

So now everyone hopefully has enough information to create a character.

Getting just yes/no answers would be a bit dull and GM Emulators are much more sophisticated than a tossed coin.

These goblins get everywhere!

What has an emulator ever done for us?

Emulators all pretty much give you a yes/no answer each time so that is how you have to structure the questions. In the same way that a GM rolled a d6 to see if town guards were patrolling the market place. The more trouble the PCs had caused in the town in the days leading up to today the GM could add a plus or minus to that 1-3/4-6 roll. So the emulator is going to take into account how likely the answer is to be a yes or a no and it will skew the results accordingly.

Emulators also normally come with a technique for changing the story or introducing a plot twist. Think of them as picking a card in Monopoly which could just as easily say “Go straight to jail.” as “Collect £20 from every player.” Without plot twists the questions you ask could become really predicable.

Whatever answer the emulator gives you it is the person currently acting as GM who has to decide what would be the most fitting and common sense interpretation of that yes or no. If Stargazer, Sunglar and Peter ask if there are guards then they are likely to be storm troopers because this is the Star Wars universe. We have magic but it is likely to be The Force for exactly the same reason. If we can manipulate The Force then chances are we are Jedi or training towards it. Each yes or no has consequences and the setting colours most of those.

Many or most emulators also give you little random words or ideas that it is your challenge to try and work these into the scenes as they unfold. This could be a random colour, sound, texture or material or an adjective. These frequently come in pairs. It is a bit like playing a word association game, it the emulator spits out “increasing” and “purple” how do you work that into the story? Maybe you looked for guards in the market place and you spot a storm trooper hitting a vagrant in the face with the butt of his rifle? The increasing purple in this instance will be the bruising from the vagrants black eye.

Sometimes an emulator will tell you to introduce an NPC. That is just as open to interpretation as everything else. What ‘NPC’ means could be anything from an innocent bystander, the sort of NPC that doesn’t even have a name through named recurring individuals to entire organisations such as guilds or agencies.

So when it is your turn to be GM you describe the scene in the game for the characters and advance the story. As soon as a question come up you pass the emulator to the next player and they roll for the answer and continue the story. The basic mechanism for an GM is “Describe the scene” and ask “What do you do?”, that doesn’t change it is just that the GM Emulator is an outside influence and can take the story in completely new and unexpected directions.

In the next instalment I will show you how an emulator really works and to make it more interesting I will create an emulator specifically for the article. It will be based around the d66 as a nod to all the time I spent reading up on Mutant:Year Zero!

Mutant:Year Zero

I have read just about everything that is available to get for free several times in the past couple of weeks and this looks like an awesome game and I really want to play/run it.

I am mechanically minded so I will start with my impressions of the detail of the system and work outwards to the bigger picture.

D6/D66/D666

I love this mechanic. At some point every GM is going to start to write their own adventures and being able to scale from six options to the 36 possible outcomes of the D66 to the 200+ options to the D666 is so simple, consistent and elegant. The mechanism gives you as much granularity as you could possibly wish for. D6 for initiative is simple enough and D66 for criticals gives you enough variety that injuries mean something. I don’t know what a hit point looks like but a broken nose means something. It seems that most fighter types will be able to take 5 points of trauma and weapons seem to do a typical 2 points per hit. This implies that fights are going to be short and bloody, no slug fests here.

The game play seems to be very social, something that I have been increasingly aware of recently both in my own games and in games I have reviewed. I like this but, as has been noted elsewhere, M:YZ is not a game for online or PBP play. It needs that sort of ‘around the table’ discussion and collaboration.

Character creation from what I have seen is really fast and easy to grasp. I am not a fan of dice and random rolls in character creation. This is a personal choice and I can see the occasional amusement of playing a warrior with a terrible strength or constitution. I would not want to do that every time. M:YZ thankfully uses a simple point buy system of sharing 14 points amongst four attributes and ten points amongst 12 basic skills. There is just as much emphasis put on relationships as there is on attributes and skills. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The only random factor in the rules I have seen is your mutation. In the quick start rules there are three mutations per character and you roll a D6 to select.

The Setting

I really like this vision of the post apocalypse. I have fond memories of Gamma World and to some extent this is a more grown up version of that vision. The setting is a role player’s setting, not a dungeon crawlers or hack and slashers setting. In that Gamma World version everyone wanted powered armour and big weaponry, from what I have seen the emphasis is more on collaboration and internal struggles with your fellow mutants and the survival of your ark.

My one and only concern is over the setting though and it is possibly completely irrelevant or wrong. There is something about M:YZ that reminds me of the original Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium?) game. I think it is the hint of an underlying menace. There are warnings at the front of the rules for players not to pry further into the rules regarding this. I wonder if once this secret is known, if the game will lose some of its return value. Even if I am right, does that detract any from the game? I think without that undercurrent the setting would lack a certain ‘something’. The setting is extremely hostile and even your mutations are out to get you. I do not think characters are going to live very long if you try and go out all guns blazing, or using a bat to try and solve your problems. This is not that sort of game. I suspect that unearthing that hidden story may never happen for a great many groups.

Finally, I would like to mention the job that Free League Publishing have done with the game materials. The writing is excellent and the art is more than adequate to imagine the setting. Page layout is possibly a bit of a nerdy thing to get excited about but it is of such massive importance to how we respond to a book. If you cannot find what you need then the rules appear opaque. If the pages are too dense with text then the rules become difficult to absorb. These are the little things that, although no single one makes or breaks a book, can change our perception of a rulebook and therefore the game. M:YZ was laid out by an extremely talented page designer.

I don’t do scores, I think games are too complex to boil down to a single ‘marks out of ten’ or ‘stars out of five’. I can imagine that reviews before me have given this game nines and tens and it would be well justified. I know I am picky and hard to please but this game is probably the best game I have read in a decade.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition available as PDF

228084Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition was the first roleplaying game I’ve played for an extended period of time, and it’s to this day one of my favorites. Recently there was a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition RPG Book Bundle at Humble Bundle which included a PDF of the 1st Edition rules, but this was only a limited offer. But since yesterday or so, this classic is available on DrivethruRPG to everyone and hopefully for at least a few years to come. I am really glad that Cubicle 7, which is currently working on a 4th Edition of the classic dark fantasy RPG, has decided to bring this old game to the digital age.

For just $9.99 you can get your hands on a piece of roleplaying game history. WFRP 1st Edition may be clunky in parts – especially the magic rules were always a bit bonkers – but it’s a great game nevertheless. The 385-paged PDF contains everything you need to run a full campaign: countless careers, an extended bestiary, a huge number of spells from various schools, a complete setting for you to play in. I really hope they’ll add a POD option, too, since I’d love to get a hardcover version of this book even though I still own the book in softcover back from the days when it was published by Hogshead. Ahh, the memories …