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My thoughts on “Chess is not an RPG”

Today I stumbled upon a blog post by John Wick about game balance, social skills, weapon lists etc. If you haven’t read it yet, please check it out and come back afterwards.

You’ve read it? Good. Welcome back! In his post Mr. Wick has tackled several issues. I already had some discussions about this post on Google+, but I thought writing a blog post would be a good idea. So, here it is. Smiley

Let’s first talk a bit about balance in games. I agree with his conclusion that balance between players is totally overrated. If you ever played a successful RIFTS campaign, you probably know that already. It’s not important that the player characters are on the same “power level” but everyone needs to get into the limelight from time to time. If someone is in the spotlight all the time, the game suffers.

He then somehow comes to the issue of weapon lists and brings the example of the famous “tea cup scene” in Chronicles of Riddick. His conclusion is that one should throw out weapon lists completely. I agree that weapons lists and other detailed stats don’t necessarily help to tell an exciting story, but they can help to set the mood of a game. A game like Shadowrun just doesn’t feel the same if you remove the incredibly long equipment lists. Part of the charm of the game is to go shopping and find the perfect gun for your character. Of course you can run a cyberpunk fantasy game without all this, but it’s just not Shadowrun anymore. In my opinion it’s a matter of taste and not a question of whether or not it makes sense from a design standpoint.

Last but not least let’s talk about the most controversial topic of the post: social skills. John Wick tells us that he usually throws out social skills and prefers if players act out their characters. You want to convince a NPC to do something? Let the player act it out. If the GM is convinced, no roll is needed. I somewhat agree with him that it’s better if you can solve social situations in roleplaying games by just acting them out. I even let players succeed if they convincingly played their character. This can of course lead to problems. What is if a player can’t or won’t act out the character? I don’t need to be able to fight with a sword as a player to play a master swordsman in a game, so why make a difference when it comes to social interactions?

I try to always encourage playing out social interactions in roleplaying games. I try to use first person speech and avoid situations like “my character says to your character”. So if a player acts out his or her character convincingly I might not ask for a roll. In a way it’s meant as an encouragement. In non-social situations, an interesting description of how a character tries to break a lock, attack an enemy etc. might also lead to at least a hefty bonus. Generally I try to favor a cool story over dice rolls anytime. BUT I try to never make things harder for the players who are not able to come up with colorful descriptions.

I’ve had a rather lengthy discussion with Chaotic/GM on that matter on Google+ and I have to admit his reasoning is very sound. Treating social interactions differently than non-social ones will give a certain type of player unfair advantages. So perhaps I should rethink my GMing style or at least modify it, so that everyone has a fair chance at the table. So what are your thoughts on the matter?

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Traveller without Aliens?

I am not sure if I already wrote on the blog about it, but I have been playing Traveller for several months now.  Initially my GM wanted to run a face-to-face game but we couldn’t make it happen. There were just too many scheduling problems, so we eventually decided to switch to a Hangout game. But I digress.

The longer I played Traveller the more I wanted to run it. I love the way our GM handles things (his version of Traveller feels almost Hard SciFi, which is extremely cool), but I also wanted to try my hand at running it myself. We actually use Savage Worlds with some elements from Interface Zero and Chaotic GM’s Savage Space, but I am toying with the idea of running a Traveller game with either Mongoose Traveller, Classic Traveller (thanks, Bundle of Holding), or Stars Without Number.

But there’s one element that slightly bothers me. For some reason I feel that the Traveller universe doesn’t need all those aliens. For one most aliens in Traveller feel like humans in rubber suits anyway (aside from the Hivers perhaps) and a Traveller universe without aliens feels closer to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation universe which Traveller was surely influenced by. I might actually keep some of the mystery of the Ancients alive, but having various variants of Humanity feels enough for my tastes.

The question now remains whether I should just create my own alien-less universe with Traveller trappings or just keep the Traveller universe as it is and just replace aliens by humans. What would you do if you were in my shoes? And do you think Traveller is still Traveller without Vargr, Hivers, Droyne, etc.? Please share your comments below.

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More Thoughts on the Cypher System

Over the last few weeks I have posted several times about Numenera and praised the so-called Cypher system which powers the game. The same rules have also been used in The Strange, Monte Cook latest game he has written together with Bruce Cordell. What really amazes me about the system is that I am so happy with it.

Usually I tend to find things that annoy me pretty quickly. Some game systems have certain rules I want to change or throw out completely. In other cases the whole system just feels wrong somehow. But in the case of the Cypher system as presented in Numenera I am totally happy with the rules. They just work, don’t get in the way and feel elegant.

This has actually caused some issues when it comes to working on own designs. As I mentioned in another post before, everything I think about tends to mutate into a cousin of Monte Cook’s system. I love that the attributes in this system are some kind of meta currency you use to pay for special actions or to use effort. The fact that the GM never rolls and that NPCs are basically described by just their level takes some time to get used to. But if you got into the Cypher system mindset it’s extremely easy to run games even without zero prep time. Sometimes it feels as if the system has been created with me in mind. At the moment Numenera is definitely my favorite game.

But of course there are other things I’d like to run or play. Every time I think about other games I can’t help to think to myself: “Why can’t this game be as elegant and simple as Numenera?” Sometimes I am tempted to try if one could turn the Cypher system into something more generic. The Strange seems to be a better starting point than Numenera for such a project, but I still get the feeling that you’ll lose certain aspect if you use the system for games in a different setting. I can just hope Monte Cook Games will someday do the heavy hauling for me. In the meantime I’ll just run some more Numenera and perhaps The Strange.

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