Interim Report Mutant: Year Zero

I don’t like long periods of radio silence and I know that a few of you are following my explorations. Not only am I a slow reader but I am also on holiday in Switzerland for 10 days so there is absolutely no chance I will get to play any games during that time.

Having said that there is one thing that struck me that I liked and it is not about game mechanics or settings at all.

Back in May 2017 I wrote, on my own blog, about gender representation in the new version of Rolemaster, currently under the acronym RMU. The post is here http://www.rolemasterblog.com/gender-in-rmu/. I know that it is perfectly normal to just pick one gender, normally ‘he’, for the rules but I expected a greater mix in the examples. I posted my thoughts on the beta forums  but I doubt if you can see that unless you are signed up to the beta test. Anyway, I was very surprised at the push back from some of the forum members who seemed resistant to the ideas.

On the other hand the M:YZ is using ‘he’ for generic player references and ‘she’ for GM references. There is a healthy mix of male and female examples throughout everything I have read so far.

I am a middle aged, British, white male and I do not think I am exceptional in any way and if I feel that the gender bias I a noticed was sufficient that I did notice then it is a problem. Like a sore thumb, once you are aware of it you cannot avoid hitting it on anything and everything. Now I have noticed this gender bias, I cannot read a rulebook without being aware of how women are treated or ignored.

I also liked the vignette that introduced the starter book. You can see it here, but the text reads “She had wandered too far into the Zone. Tula had walked through the dark forest, followed the old rail tracks between crumbling ruins and rusting train wrecks, towards the glimmering silver disks by the horizon. She wanted to reach them so bad.  Become a hero of the Ark. A famous stalker. Now, she would be a dead stalker. If the thirst didn’t kill her, zone ghouls or the rot would. That’s when she saw them. Scattered across the ground like metallic rag dolls. Machine beings. Dead for decades.Tula had heard stories of them. What had happened here? Suddenly she heard a noise. Growls. Voices. Tula drew her scrap pistol and got ready to fight for her life.”

So that is my ‘thought of the day’. Doesn’t really tell you anything about M:YZ apart from GMs being referred to as She.

Ending The Break–Or How To Deal With GM Anxiety

Back in June I decided to take a break from running roleplaying games. I have been wearing the GM’s mantle for many, many years now, and I just needed to step back from that position for a while. Running games was just not fun for me anymore. It felt more like a job, a burden I had to take. Eventually it was even a source of anxiety. I was never the most self-confident person, but back then I thought that every game I started was doomed to fail anyway. Sometimes I even pondered to stop playing roleplaying games for good.

I’ve dealt with mental health issues for a long time and over the years I luckily learned how to deal with certain aspects of this predicament. When I noticed that I reacted with anxiety even when just thinking about running RPGs, I knew that I had to change something. So I decided to take a break.

It was pretty hard at first. But over time I was getting more relaxed and I enjoyed being able to just play for a change. I’ve a lot of fun playing in games like Shadowrun, Mutant: Year Zero, Traveller, and John Sinclair (which is a German game based on a German horror pulp novel series). Several members of my regular gaming groups tried their hand at being the GM for the first time, and felt some satisfaction when they immediately noticed that this job can be pretty hard at times.

But of course I was always thinking about what games I could run after the break. I wanted to find something I was comfortable with and which allowed me to ease me back in. I didn’t want to burn out on GMing again. Unfortunately this is more easily said than done. A lot of games I once felt quite comfortable with are now tied to some very unpleasant memories. Some of my attempts to get campaigns going in the first half of the year or even before that ended in disaster.

A couple of weeks back I took a hiatus from my GMing break when I ran an Index Card RPG one-shot game using the Warp Shell rules. The game was fun, the rules worked well, but I felt it wasn’t the right game for me. Perhaps I was also not in the right mindset for that game, or for GMing in general. After being on a break for so long, I now struggle to find the best way to end it.

I promised a few friends to run a roleplaying game this weekend, but I am still not sure what to run. I also feel that the longer I think about it the more anxious I get. But I don’t want to give in to anxiety again. It would be so easy to just play a board game or ask someone else to take over, but I actually don’t want to do that…

Long story short, now that I’ve been on a break for about half a year it’s becoming increasingly hard to get back into the GM’s chair, especially with my old friend anxiety looming somewhere under the surface. If you folks have any advice on how I could deal with it, it would be appreciated.

Conan II

I have based this look at the Conan rpg on the quick start rules and the Conan Free RPG Day 2017 version Pit of Kutallu.

When Michael reviewed the full rule book the overall impression I came away with was ambivalence towards the game but then Michael is not a real Conan fan. Conan was my way into RPGs in the first place.

So putting the 2d20 system aside (more about that later) how has Conan and Hyboria been treated? With the greatest respect is my impression. The books are littered with vignettes taken from Robert E. Howards original works and these set the scene and bring the setting to live. The quick start book even starts with an essay on what is canon and who Howard’s creation was taken and expanded upon.

I have read through two adventures; Pit of Kutallu, which showcases the dark Cthulhu-esque shared background of Hyboria and To Race The Thunder which is set on the very edges of Aquilonia.

I may be somewhat biased here but these adventures are written in the same style as I tend to write my own. I am not a lover of maps and room by room descriptions. These adventures describe challenges or encounters and the GM may use or ignore them as they see fit or are needed to challenge the players. There is another quality to them and this is ‘relative encounters’.

‘Relative Encounters’

In many classic published adventures; a location will be described and then you are told there are 5 guards stationed here, what they are carrying and any treasure. When the PCs roll up they meet or avoid the guards depend on their choices. These static encounters have the danger of being over powered or under powered depending on the make up of the party. We play a game based upon dice and random things happen.

All the adventure encounters in these publications use a more relative way of describing the numbers encountered such as ‘one less than the number of characters’ or ‘three times the number of characters plus two more’. It doesn’t matter how many characters are in the party, the danger level of the adventures self-regulates. I don’t know if this is a Conan ‘thing’ or just a modern adventure writing ‘thing’, either way it is excellent and I will adopt it for all my future adventures.

Another feature, this may just be because the sample I have looked at are intended to be single shot adventures, but NPCs are designated as being suitable for use as PCs. Should a player die in the game session they can take up the reins of one of these NPCs to complete the adventure. This points to the adventure being well written. It also gives the GM a free hand relating to danger. I am not a ‘killing’ GM. I do not go out of my way to stack dangers against the PCs. At the same time I like to let the dice fall where they may. I am running a game set in the Forgotten Realms right now and the party have two possible options for raising a fallen character, both of which are single use, one is a scroll and the other will be consumed when used. Giving them that ability means that my hands are free to play my monsters and NPC opponents to the best of their ability. Seeding the adventures with potential pregen characters also frees up the GM.

So, as published Conan is a 2d20 system but Modiphius also publish a d20 to 2d20 conversion document to help those moving from the Mongoose Conan game. WotC incidentally publish a D6 to d20 conversion guidelines document relating to the StarWars franchise. This means that junking the 2d20 system, the only element that I don’t like, and adopting either d20 or an OpenD6 system are viable options. My D6 bookshelf has grown to 5 books now and I like what I am reading.

Conclusion

So will I buy Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book? It is a relatively cheap book and certainly good value for money at nearly 500 pages. I think this is a good possibility and kills two birds with one stone, to use the cliché, I could tempt my main group of players with Conan and feed them the D6 system at the same time. So right now Conan is on my ‘I want to play’ pile.

A Roleplaying Games blog