Category Archives: Random musings

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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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NaGaDeMon: It’s Full Of Stars!

One thing which makes NaGaDeMon so hard for me is that I tend to read a lot of roleplaying games especially the ones I like while I should be focusing on writing stuff myself. There are a couple of systems I love, and everything I write tends to slowly transforms into a bad copy of those systems. Instead of hanging my head in shame, I decided to share some of these games with you.

The main reason I started to work on WR&M Pocket Edition was that I wanted to create something as simple and elegant as Chris McDowall’s Into The Odd. Chris took D&D, stripped away almost everything and combined it with a very unique and awesome setting. The free version is still available on his blog, while a new version (which will also be available in print) is being worked on right now. Into The Odd has all the weirdness of a game like Numenera while being extremely simple to run and play. If you haven’t checked it out, you definitely should do so.

Apropos Numenera, Monte Cook’s Cypher system is another rules system I recently fell in love with. It’s fully player-facing, very easy to run, and has a couple of very intriguing mechanics I wish I came up with. One thing I love about the system is the Effort system. The players can lower the difficulty of tasks by spending points from their attribute pools.

This also reminded me of the way General skills in Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe System work. Like the attribute pools in the Cypher system, the skill ratings in Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, etc. are resources to spend. Skill checks are done with a d6 and you can add points from your skills to improve your chances. I always wanted to write a system which uses skills/attributes in such a way, so it was no surprise that my updated version of Galaxy Core started to look a bit like a Frankensteinian creation – one part Galaxy Core and one part Gumshoe or Chyper. Not a pretty sight, I can assure you.
By the way, Gumshoe is now available under not one but two open licenses (CC and OGL). If you haven’t done so, you definitely should check out the SRD.

By the way, I also found the perfect magic system to be included in WR&M Pocket Edition or a WRM 2nd Edition.  R.E. Davis recently told me about his fantasy “rule manifesto” Patchwork Fantasy which is partly based on WR&M. It features an awesome spell system, which basically allows players to design their own spells by assigning 3 to 4 tags. Brilliant! You can check it out here.

At the moment I am not sure how I should proceed with my NaGaDeMon projects. I am tempted to put the two projects I wrote about earlier this week in favor of a simplified version of the Gumshoe system. It might even be possible to turn it into a system suited for fantasy games. And since it’s now licensed under CC it’s even perfectly legal now. It’s very tempting to mess with a system written by my favorite game designer, it really is.

Note: The image above was created by Pauline Moss and has been used under the terms of the CC-BY-NC 3.0 license. Check out her DeviantArt site!