Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Biggest Gaming Hate: Codified Roleplaying

I, like most other committed GMs, are on a constant search for The Perfect Game, that one game that has the perfect set of rules for our play style. Unfortunately, it seems that no such game exists. So while the hunt for the Perfect Game, seems to be ultimately fruitless, it does have the added benefit of honing our sense of what we like and what we don't like in a game.

Recently I have come to identify one common element that I hate above all others: codified roleplaying.

I hate games that tell you how to play a character and are built upon mechanisms that don't work unless someone plays the character "right."  The reason I think this sucks is that rather than naturally flowing with the story and reacting like a real person, the player must remove themselves from the scene to analysis how the character would best approach the situation. If she's playing a game in which there is a mechanical reward for "good" roleplaying, there is a potential for analysis paralysis as she considers the best way to game the system with her character's next action or dialogue.

There are a lot of games out there that are based around codified roleplaying, and there seems to be more and more every day as the story games become more popular. The earliest example of codified roleplaying is likely the nine alignments of AD&D, but now there are games like Fate Core that are almost nothing but rules on how to play a character "right."

I want very much to like Fate Core. It has a lot going for it and truth be told it's quite a brilliant game. If I were to every run a setting that is completely unlike anything published with concepts like superpowers or time travel that are hard to nail down, I'd probably turn to Fate. Since the character is composed of descriptive Aspects defined by the player, they would have a great idea of what a character can or can't do. The rules are also very simple, which is something I love as a GM.

But then I think about how a game of Fate Core would actually play out. Because the rules mimic conventions in fiction, it seems to me that Fate is more about playing a narrative device than a character. When you define a character with tropes, its just the tropes that you're going to be playing with. On the other hand, most traditional games have characters that are defined by characteristics directly related to actions. When the dice are thrown, it's in regard to how successful the character is in performing an action, not whether or not the invoked trope will work out in the narrative.

Savage Worlds probably has the most about of codified roleplaying that I can handle as most of the Hindrances offer no explicit mechanical benefit. The underlying mechanism is that when a Bloodthirsty character kills the already subdued enemy, he gets a benny. The problem I have with this as a GM is that I have a terrible time keeping track of roleplaying Hindrances and don't reward them when I should. A player would likely need to look me in the eye and say, "I am killing him because my character is Bloodthirsty." Talk about breaking the scene.

In my Perfect Game there would be no rules that dictate how a character should be played. Evil characters are such because of the actions the player takes, not because of what is on the character sheet. Likewise, charming characters are not so because they have that trait on their sheet, but because their players make them so at the table.

It can be argued that codifying character personality and social skills allows people to play characters that are dramatically different than they are in real life. The awkward loser can play a dashing knight and the shy wallflower can play an intimidating thug. My solution to this problem, rather than ruining fun with codified roleplaying, is for the GM to give the players a fucking break. If someone is trying to be smooth in my game, I let that play out, even if the truth is far from the fiction. If someone is trying to bully an NPC and that character has given them good reason to be afraid, that NPC will be shaking in his boots.

I believe that roleplaying is something that you just end up doing in an RPG. It doesn't need to be force onto a player, nor should the GM have to enforce "correct" roleplaying. When that dungeon door opens and a giant poisonous caterpillar spills out, the most natural reaction will always be the best.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Lamentation of the Flame Princess - Rules & Magic ("Hardcover" Edition)

The latest printing of the LotFP rules has the publisher breaking from their tradition of compact box sets with a beautifully designed hardcover. Largely this is the same rules that appears in the Grindhouse Edition, with the exception of an overhaul to the layout and the addition of rules for early modern firearms and armor.

At this point I feel that there are enough reviews of LotFP as a game that I don't need to go into much detail in that regard. However, I do want to reiterate that this is an excellent game. I would go so far as saying that it is the best retroclone on the market. The changes that it makes to Basic Dungeons and Dragons are all excellent and greatly improve the game experience. When I run a game of "D&D," even with elves and dragons and magic wands everywhere, I use LotFP. It's just a good game.

Also, LotFP has the best character sheet I've ever seen. Everything a player would need to know is displayed clearly with no mental math and no rules memorization. Other game publishers can learn a lot from these character sheets.

If you want to see why this is such a great set of rules, even for high fantasy games which it is not intended for, check out the free no-art version.

So is the art worth paying $5? Definitely.

LotFP gets a lot of attention because of the art in its products, especially the core books. The art alone is the reason for the 18+ warning on the cover and has caused quite a bit of controversy. I have some mixed feelings about the art because I feel it draws too much attention away from the rules and presents the game as specifically a horror game. I know that's how James Raggi, the creator of LotFP, runs his game, but the rules do not demand any specific setting or tone. That aside, the artwork in this book is amazing. Many of the pieces from the early editions return and other less evocative works are replaced with art that better captures the weird fantasy vibe.

The way that the artwork is integrated into the layout is also spectacular. When reading the no-art version, keep in mind that every large block of white space is filled with something awesome in the full version.

The major addition to the rules is the appendix for early modern firearms and armor. These rules clearly are the product of diligent research and playtesting. The price of the book is worth it for these rules along, as they go so much further than reskinned crossbows. The artwork is also essential for this appendix as if gives you a crash course in early firearms, complete with detailed illustrations of these awesome but wholly unfamiliar weapons.

With this edition I really think LotFP has established its place as a leader in the OSR movement. It's a testiment to the quality one can expect from the publisher and a beautiful packaging of my favorite old-school ruleset.

You can buy LotFP Rules & Magic in PDF at RPGNow and in print at the LotFP store.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Planet Motherfucker Character Template: Black Metal Berzerker

Black Metal Berserker

PURE FUCKING EVIL!!! With the unholy strength of Satan (or cruel pagan gods, if you prefer) you shall burn a demonic path through the wastes of Planet Motherfucker, with all those left in your wake thoroughly impressed by your grim coldness. 

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Lockpicking d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d6, Investigation d4, Notice d4, Survival d4, Intimidation d6, Faith d8
Charisma 0; Pace 6; Parry 5; Toughness 6
Hindrances: Bloodthirsty (+2), Quirk (must convince other of his pure evilness) (+1)
Edges: Arcane Background (Miracles), Berserk
Gear: Spiked Mace (damage: d6+d8, +2 vs. rigid armor, Parry –1, 2 hands), Black leather armor (+1), $50 in trade goods (toilet paper and beer)
Spells: Fear, Smite
Power Points: 10

The Mad Daddy, a Villain for Planet Motherfucker

The Mad Daddy, Apocalypse Warlord (Wildcard)

"Russia's bombs did a damn good job destroying Murica. Let's see if I can't do better.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d10, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d8, Gambling d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Repair d4, Shooting d8, Streetwise d6, Survival d6, Taunt d8, Weird Science d8
Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Big Mouth, Greedy (Major)
Edges: Arcane Background (Weird Science), Command, No Mercy
Powers: Havoc (Emitted from Chaos Crown device)
Gear: Laser Pistol (Range 15/30/60, 1-3d6, Shots 24, Semi-Auto), Leather (+1, Covers torso, arms, legs), Switchblade (Str+d4, –2 to be Noticed if hidden), $240 in barter goods (beer and toilet paper).

Review: Fuck for Satan

With a name like that, how could I stay away?

Fuck for Satan is the a short adventure written by James Raggi, which means it is deadly and ridiculous is all of the right ways. What makes Fuck for Satan stand out is the way that its ridiculousness is no longer aimed at the players. Now the referee is the target.

I'm going to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, because I can fore see this being a very popular module in the LotFP crowd and I'd hate to ruin the fun for anyone. Referees who have run Death Frost Doom will especially want to run this adventure, as it makes for a very fitting sequel. It also ties in nicely into Better Than Any Man with its Swiss location.

While Fuck for Satan takes place in the developing LotFP setting of early modern Europe, it can easily be translated to any fantasy setting. Just replace "Geneva" with your favorite major fantasy city and "Satan" with Orcus, Slaanesh, or any other evil fantasy god. That said, I don't know if players will get the same sense of sleazy occult fun with an entity other than Satan himself.

There is a dungeon in this adventure and it live up to Raggi's reputation for meat-grinding, trap-filled death holes. The traps are everywhere, almost unavoidable and very, very regrettable. Luckily, the dungeon is relatively small when compared to Death Frost Doom and the Grinding Gear, which puts much less pressure on the referee to memorize the many mechanics of Raggi's complex traps.

And yes, there is fucking in this adventure, and yes, the fucking is for Satan. That said, you don't need to worry about any uncomfortable psycho-sexual horror on par with Death Love Doom. This is the fun kind of fucking. Well, maybe "fun" is a strong word...

At five bucks, Fuck for Satan is a no-brainer. If you like killer dungeons with gonzo monsters and reality-warping magic, buy this book and run it.

You can buy Fuck for Satan in PDF at RPGNow or in print at the LotFP store.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Planet Motherfucker Character Template: The Human Fly

The Human Fly

I'm a human fly and I don't know why. I got ninety six-tears in my ninety-six eyes.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Acid d4, Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Intimidation d4, Notice d6, Piloting d6, Stealth d4, Survival d6, Tracking d6
Charisma: -4; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Outsider, Ugly
Edges: Alertness, Arcane Background (Super Powers)
Powers: Acid (Range: Touch; deals 2d6 damage and 1d6 damage every turn for 1d4 rounds)
Gear: Flak Jacket (+2/+4, Covers torso), Glock (9mm) (Range 12/24/48, 2d6, Shots 17, AP 1, Semi-Auto), Survival knife (Str+d4, Contains supplies that add +1 to Survival rolls), $170 in barter goods (Beer and Toilet Paper)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Games I Would Run Right Now

The following are games that I would run right now, if only I had the time.

  1. Planet Motherfucker - Run in Savage Worlds. A band of misfits hit the road to track down the Mad Daddy, a warlord whom they hate very, very much.
  2. Savage Doctor Who - A conversion of the Cubicle 7 Doctor Who game into Savage Worlds. The Doctor is missing and the TARDIS collects individuals who can help find him before the universe is destroyed. 
  3. Lamentations of the Flame Princess - By the book LotFP. A campaign through the various adventures from this publisher.
  4. Sword and Backpack - A lighthearted hack of D&D, intended for silly high fantasy and drinking.
  5. DC Heroes - Set in the continuity of the early 1990s, the Justice League take on a shadowy villain who knows all their secrets and isn't afraid to share. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

ENnies: Nominate your favorite publishers

You can nominate your favorite RPG publisher for an ENnie this year. In fact, you can nominate up to six.

If you have a hard time coming up with a publisher to nominate, may I remind you that Lamentations of the Flame Princess had an excellent year.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Planet Motherfucker Review

I'm usually not very fond of settings books. Most of them include too many ideas that I find boring or down right stupid, and the good ones usually require too much player commitment. I'd rather run a game than recite imaginary history and cultural facts that the player characters should know.

That is why I'm such a big fan of Jack Shear's various bare-bone settings. By only including the essential details and referencing inspirational material rather than listing pages upon pages of minutia, Jack's settings never fail to get the creative juices going. His newest setting, Planet Motherfucker is no different.

Planet Motherfucker takes place in post-apocalyptic America in which polite society came to a end in 1965. Rising from the ashes is not a depressed wasteland of eschatological existentialism. Instead, we find ourselves in a drug and booze-fueled world in which everything awesome about trash culture has become the norm. Hot rods, killer robots, mutant animals, weird science, voodoo daddys and everyone is sexy as hell. You know all the fun, gonzo stuff found in the Fallout series? It's a game that is just that and nothing else.

Planet Motherfucker is a slim volume, filled with mostly random tables and character templates. It's perfect for use at the table and a complete adventure can easily be improvised on the spot using the random tables. If I have one major criticism, it is that I would love to see more of Jack's vision of this world. He does an excellent job of giving the GM enough information to have his imagination go wild, but Jack is so on point with the craziness that I just want more. A full-blown source book would be a dream come true.

Although PM is advertised as system neutral, it is best paired with Savage Worlds Deluxe, which Jack uses to run his own PM games. The character templates are ready to go SW novice characters and the monster ideas reference creatures that are stated in the Savage Worlds rule book. This makes sense because Savage Worlds is a excellent system for running pulpy, action oriented games. However, I could easily see this setting run in systems like Mutant Future and Apocalypse World with excellent results.

If you're in a rut with the settings you've been using, or you just want a fun setting that anyone can jump into and have a blast with, order a copy of Planet Motherfucker.

PS: Some people have been putting together recommended listening lists for a Planet Motherfuck soundtrack. I have been compiling them and adding my own suggestions to this Spotify playlist.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Dark Verse, Vol. 3 Kickstarter Ending Soon

The Kickstarter campaign to fund M. Amanuensis Sharkchild's third volume of Lovecraftian cosmic horror tales is nearing completion but still has a way to go. If you are a lover of weird fiction, occult horror and general gruesome things, I highly recommend you check out Sharkchild's work and then consider backing the campaign. I believe he is one of the few truly fresh voices in the world of horror literature today.

I've backed Sharkchild's previous campaigns and I can attest to the quality of his stories and the quality of the printed books.

Marine Space: A Half-Parody Setting of Grim Dark Submarine Adventure

Earlier this year Games Workshop made waves by being a little too adamant about protecting their trademark of the phrase "Space Marine." This lead to no shortage of snarky comments from people in the gaming industry, including one from James Raggi, creator of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Basically, Raggi mused on creating a setting called Marine Space in which players explore the grim darkness of the ocean depths.

I liked the idea, so I actually threw together a player's guide for the hypothetical setting. I'm not sure if it's a loving parody of WH40K or just an steampunk adaptation. In any case, I think it would be a lot of fun and a good way of running a WH40K game without having to worry about the metric fuckton of lore in the original setting. All you need to know about Marine Space is in the 7 page player's guide.

Marine Space

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Machinations of the Space Princess Released

Another new release this week and one that I have been anticipating greatly ever since I first heard about it. Machinations of the Space Princess brings the weird fantasy role playing of Lamentations of the Flame Princess into a sleazy, sexy sci-fi setting.

I first stumbled across MotSP long after the successful indiegogo campaign when looking for OSR sci-fi game. My hope was to find something to run an old-school game in a Warhammer 40k-inspired setting. It seemed like MotSP was a perfect fit. I've downloaded a playtest version of the game, which I may need to check out soon know that my curiosity has been raised but my bank account is painfully low.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Jack Shear's Planet Motherfucker released!!!

Jack Shear, who spits out a new intriguing setting practically every day, has released his newest creation Planet Motherfucker on Lulu.com. Celebrate 'Murica and pick up a copy. Use the coupon code FIREWORKS to get 25% off when purchasing this "psychoholic trash culture setting."

Buy it now, patriot!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Armor Class: The One Reason I Can't Commit to Old-School D&D

I love the rules of B/X Dungeons and Dragons, especially through the filters of Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I like these set of rules so much that I've considered settling down and committing to only running these games, only purchasing material compatible with these games and only expend creative energy designing monsters, items, classes and systems for those games. It would be so nice to commit to one system. It would make life so much simpler.

But there is one thing, one little feature, of these games and other old-school D&D variations that I just cannot reconcile. One feature that just rubs me the wrong way. That feature is Armor Class.

Essentially, Armor Class is intended to be an abstraction of how hard it is to get a good hit on a target. It takes into account the dexterity of the target along with the strength of the armor he is wearing. The problem I have with the system is that it places much more emphasis on armor than dexterity. So much more that the bonus one receives to Armor Class due to a good dexterity score is worthless compared to the absurd value of plate mail.

Now part of me understands that this is actually more realistic. When fighting in a medieval melee, you're much more likely to be hit by your enemy than successfully dodge the attack. But that's not how I visualize the battles, nor it is how I automatically describe failed To Hit rolls to my players. I envision a missed roll to be a missed blow, the enemy deftly stepping to the side or the hero dramatically parrying the attack. It's a much more cinematic and exciting image than a bunch of guys whacking each other with swords and only occasionally cutting someone.

Maybe I could come to terms with Armor Class if I didn't know that there was something better out there. Savage Worlds breaks down a character's defense into two stats: Parry and Toughness. The result is a combat system that has the dramatic bobbing and weaving I love while accounting for the strength of a character's armor. To hit a Savage World's character, the roll must meet the target number of the character's Parry. To actually do harm, the resulting damage roll must meet or exceed the character's Toughness score. Such a simple system, yet so perfectly executed. This is one of the things I love the most about Savage Worlds and is the reason I can't keep away from it for very long.

I'm sure that a similar thing could be done for old-school games, but it doesn't seem right to change Armor Class into two different stats. For one it would make it much more difficult to convert monsters and items from one game to the other, which would take away much of the appeal that I have for old-school games.

I think that my issues with Armor Class are just something I'm going to need to suck up and get over. It's a small blemish on what I think is a beautiful system. Still, it's enough to keep my eyes wandering.