We need an alternative to DriveThruRPG

If you are closely following what’s happening in the RPG scene, you have probably heard about the kerfuffle about a product called “Tournament of Rape” which was sold at DriveThruRPG for a few days before being removed. At first OneBookShelf (the company behind DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) tried to talk down the problem, before they took action. And there’s now a new policy in place which shall prevent issues like that in the future.

BUT this policy might create more problems than it solves. At first OBS will be reactive not proactive. The publisher still decides what to upload and the uploads will not be screened by OBS. Customers of the site can flag content they deem offensive and then OBS is taking steps. When the site update goes live, a press of a button is all it needs to flag a product. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Alas there is number of people who think they have the wisdom to decide what is good for the rest of us and take steps to enforce their world view. And the internet gives them the power to enlist countless people to their cause, a lot of which are not even remotely interested in our hobby. Under the new policy, flagged products are immediately suspended from the store. Which means, if someone doesn’t like your work, he or she can easily flag you on a Friday to make sure your weekend sales are gone. Poof. Can this be misused? Yes. Will it be? You betcha!

All this would be not that bad if there were alternatives to OBS’ sites. But alas they basically have a monopoly on the sale of digital RPG products at the moment. This makes it the perfect target for the kind of bullies mentioned earlier. Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the removal of “Tournament of Rape” from DriveThruRPG. But I also fear that a system as the one OBS now put in place can easily be misused. It would be better if OBS screened products themselves to decide if it’s within what they seem appropriate for their store.

That’s why I am hoping for an alternative to the OBS monopoly. We need at least a couple major marketplaces for digital RPG products which may or may not cater to different target audiences. Perhaps one for family-friendly material, another for more adult-themed products. But the current situation is problematic. Publishers are now basically at the whim of OBS which might be easily bullied into action by certain parts of the hobby (and beyond).

Update: I have read a couple of good arguments and changed my mind. At least regarding the reasons why OBS should remove a product. If they think it’s not fitting for their store, they should remove it. But not when some people feel offended. Some people may be offended by something like “Carebears – The RPG”. Is that a valid reason to remove it from the store? I have my doubts. Noone is forced to buy stuff they don’t like.

A Time Of War

An old friend recently offered to run a Battletech RPG campaign for us. As a long-time fan of the board game and the Battletech universe I was actually overjoyed and immediately started to think about my character. The whole group talked about the idea and in the end we decided that we wanted to play Inner Sphere mercenaries. And start the campaign just before the Clan invasion.

Initially the plan was to use Mechwarrior 2nd Edition since it was written with the early Clan invasion era in mind. But later my friend told us that he preferred using A Time of War, the most recent edition of the Mechwarrior rules. Even though I own the rules basically since day one, I haven’t had the chance to play the game yet and from what I remember it was a great improvement over the somewhat weird 3rd Edition.


The group will consist of three players (the GM’s wife, my girlfriend, and me). Since our group is a bit small, we’ll each run our primary characters (which will be Mechwarriors) but also take control of secondary characters like technicians, aerospace fighter pilots and so on. Hopefully we’ll create characters this weekend but it will probably take a few more weeks before we can start the campaign. We already picked our ‘mechs (yes, our GM is very generous man). The GM’s wife chose a Thunderbolt, I picked the Warhammer (probably in the Liao variant), and my girlfriend decided her character should pilot a Catapult. One of the lancemates will be a NPC and we thought it would be nice to have at least some scout-capability, so the NPC will get a Phoenix Hawk. Our GM already told us that there will be opportunity to upgrade and/or modify our ‘mechs later, so I hope I can get my hands on a Nova Cat later (which is my favorite Clan mech). I keep my fingers crossed. Smiley

warhammerI am extremely excited to play a roleplaying game in the Battletech universe. Battletech was basically the game which brought me into roleplaying, since it were my BT-playing friends who introduced the concept of roleplaying to me back in the early 1990s. I have played most of the BT computer games, and have played the board game sporadically over the last years and even introduced my girlfriend to it. She’s not an avid fan but she enjoyed the boardgame and is always up for a roleplaying game where she can cause massive destruction and wield big guns. Zwinkerndes Smiley

Has anyone of you already played or run A Time Of War? If so, could you share your experiences? Is there some advice you can give novice players? Please post your comments below!

Don’t Think Too Big!

For a while I have been struggling with a long-time dream of mine: a homebrew cyberpunk setting. I always loved the genre but I am not 100% happy with the cyberpunk games commercially available. Either I don’t like the rules attached to the setting or the setting itself has some elements I dislike. But creating a whole near-future scifi setting from scratch is not an easy task.

As usual I made the mistake of starting with a big picture. Don’t get me wrong, the outside-in approach of campaign design works great, but it takes a lot of work. For some reason when designing campaigns I follow this approach, even though I know deep down that it’s the main reason most of my campaign projects failed.

Instead of focusing on the big picture I should think smaller, focus on the place where I want the players to have their first adventures. In cyberpunk the action usually takes places in a bustling metroplex, a huge city housing millions of people. Having an elaborate background for other places in the world is nice, but how much impact will it have on your game anyway? If the players are freelance operatives working for the highest bidder, is it really important what happened in the Eurowars 25 years ago?

Instead of trying to come up with every little detail I want to use a different approach in the future. For the cyberpunk campaign setting I have been struggling with I want to focus on a single city first and just create some broad-strokes background for the rest of the world. If these places become more important in the campaign I can still flesh them out. But with focusing on just one city things get much easier. For starters I can use the same approach for the city itself. Perhaps the action will focus on a certain city district first. So why bother to write up many pages of background information on the rest of the city if you don’t use it?

This approach is pretty common in fantasy settings. You start out with a small place and then the world slowly opens up. But for some reason doing it this way feels wrong in a scifi game. In a fantasy game travel is slow and dangerous and information about faraway lands is hard to come by and often inaccurate. So it’s easy to focus on the “starting area” first and then add details to the rest of the world when needed. But in a near-future cyberpunk setting you can easily charter a flight to any place in the world (perhaps even the solar system) and getting information about the most obscure places is just a click, a touch, or a thought away. But in most cases you don’t need to know everything – not even as the GM. A broad-strokes setting is often even easier to work anyway. Too much information often feels like a burden to the creative GM who likes to wing things during the game.

Long story short, I think sometimes it’s better to think smaller not bigger when it comes to campaign design. In the end nobody is having fun if the campaign never sees the light of day because the GM is still working on some obscure details just to appease his or her inner completionist.

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