Since I have been pretty quiet over the last few days I wanted to give you guys a short update on what’s new with your favorite blogger. My fight with depression is going pretty well at the moment. The new medication my physician prescribed me a while ago is helping a lot and I am already feeling much better. I have not returned to work yet, but I plan to slowly return to a normal life soon. I also took some steps to get rid of the tachycardia I have had for years now. My blood pressure is not perfect but still acceptable, but my heart rate is way too high. Hopefully the beta blockers will help fix that. My physician also highly recommended me to do some sports, so I guess I’ll have to get my ass into gear.
Gaming-wise everything is quite brilliant at the moment. I currently play in several games including D&D 5E, Traveller (using Savage Worlds) and Shadowrun 3E. I guess you already read about the Numenera game I’m running at the moment. I have to admit I am very excited about our next session and this time I’m not even remotely nervous. Tonight I’ll join a friend’s Barbarians of Lemuria online game, and we’ve also scheduled the next two D&D sessions. So it looks as if I’ll have about two gaming sessions per week in the foreseeable future, which is awesome.
Let me muse about D&D 5E a bit. We are playing the adventure included in the Starter Set using the pregenerated characters. The DM decided to run us through some kind of prologue first, since we are only two players at the moment. This not only gave us a lot of cool roleplaying opportunities early on, but we also had time to ease into the rules – which are pretty cool by the way. I’m surprised that they managed to keep things simple with this new edition of D&D. It reminds me of a very streamlined version of D&D 3.0 with some elements from both older and newer editions. Combat is pretty fast and the advantage/disadvantage mechanic works pretty well. I also love that they are releasing the basic rules as a free PDF which could really be a viable alternative especially if you’re not sure if the new edition is the right game for you. It’s possible to start playing with the free rules only and later add stuff from the PHB.
Even though I am currently more focussed on Numenera and The Strange, I’ll definitely give D&D 5E a chance. The new PHB is already ordered and I am looking forward the rest of the core books. I have to admit I was pretty skeptical about 5E but the Starter Set just looked like too sweet a deal to pass up. And now that I have played a couple of sessions I have to say that I enjoy it a lot. We haven’t explored everything the rules offer yet, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty sweet. I might still prefer Lamentations of the Flame Princess for D&D-ish games with a more modern and horror-ish vibe, but for traditional fantasy I might use D&D 5E in the future.
I’ve also thought about game design a lot in the last weeks, but for some reason everything I come up with looks like a bad copy of Monte Cook’s Cypher System with the serial numbers filed off. It seems these mechanics had a much greater impact on me than I first anticipated. I guess that’s also the reason why I picked up The Strange. The things I love about the Cypher System are the pools, the Edge/effort mechanics, and the fact that each creature can usually be described by its level alone (plus some tweaks). This in combination with the fact that the GM never rolls makes the system easy to run and play. Perhaps I’ll someday manage to incorporate a few of these concepts into my games without totally ripping of Monte. On the other hand, isn’t copying someone the highest form of flattery?
On Saturday six of my friends and I met to play Numenera. None of us had played the game before but we all were pretty excited about it. We all had high hopes and especially I feared things might not turn out that great. But that was probably mostly because of my GM stage fright.
In the end we all had a blast. Character creation took us about two hours if I am not mistaken. I didn’t actually look at the clock that often, mostly because we were all totally engrossed into the character creation process. In the end we had a group consisting of one glaive, two nanos, and three jacks. In other games several characters of the same class feel a bit the same – especially on the low levels – but that was not the case here. Each character was totally unique and in most cases they were as weird and strange as expected from Numenera.
Running the game was a lot of easier than I expected and I dare to say it’s the easiest game I ever ran. But it never felt overly simplistic. Numenera’s Cypher System has still enough meat on its bones to feel interesting. At first I thought it might take a while for everyone to get the Effort mechanic, but that was not the case. The players also quickly learned how to use their abilities and the cyphers they had in their possession in creative and exciting ways.
As a GM it felt somewhat strange not to roll any dice at first. Numenera also made me change the way I usually run games completely. In other games I often keep things like creature stats etc. secret. I also tend to roll behind the GM screen and I am no stranger to fudging the dice in order to keep characters from dying too quickly. But all this doesn’t work in Numenera. I quickly decided that it was more fair to the players if I told them the monsters’ level, so they knew their chances better – especially when using effort. So in a way Numenera forced me to abandon some old habits and surprisingly it actually felt great.
Even though I have ran the game only once, I think Numenera could quickly become my favorite RPG. The Ninth World is an exciting, colorful, and wonderful gonzo setting, the rules are very easy to learn, fast, and still interesting to use, and you can run it with basically no prep at all. The Cypher System is something I wish I had come up with. I have to admit that I have been tinkering around with the idea of a system that allows players to put in effort into their actions and this effort is paid by health points for years now. Alas I never got the system working smoothly. But from what I’ve seen so far, Monte Cook got it working perfectly.
There’s one thing I am still not 100% comfortable with and that is GM intrusions. For some reason I was hesitant using those. While it is probably a great tool to make things more interesting and grant the PCs some free XP during the session, it still feels somewhat wrong to me. But I guess that’s just me. Next time I’ll definitely have to try to overcome that hesitation.
Today I finally got my print copy of the Ninth World Bestiary and just leafing through it gave me dozens of adventure ideas. And since everything’s possible in the Ninth World coming up with new adventures for my players should be a piece of cake. These are exciting times!
Tomorrow I’ll run my first game of Numenera. In addition to being the first time I run this game it will be the first time that I run a game for such a large group. When everyone shows up as planned, I’ll have a group of six player, including three people I never ran a game for. I have to admit, I am a little bit nervous.
The rules are easy enough, so I don’t see any problems on that front. And if everything fails I am sure I can rely on Marcus, who is at least as much excited about the game than I am. What concerns me a bit is the setting itself. While I totally love the weirdness and the everything-is-possible attitude I’m not exactly sure if I can get this weirdness across. It doesn’t help that the descriptions in the adventure I will be running are a bit vague. A few more illustrations would have helped. I guess I’ll have to rely on my improvisational skills.
In order to reduce my nervousness I already read the adventure several times, printed and bound the books I got as PDFs, charged my portable loudspeakers, and put some fitting music onto my Android tablet. It might surprise some of you that a veteran GM is still nervous when running a game. I think in my case it’s some kind of stage fright. Especially when my depression was worse this lead me to cancel whole campaigns, but luckily things are better now. I’m also pretty sure that all doubts and fears will be gone as soon as we’re actually playing.
Overall I have some high hopes for Numenera. If things turn out well I might run it on a small convention we’re planning in October. It might also become my go-to fantasy roleplaying game. The rules are so straightforward and simple that it’s the perfect pick-up-and-play game, especially if you’re comfortable with the setting.