Monthly Archives: July 2009

An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 1

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Here’s the first part of a list of 26 lesser-known roleplaying games, one for each letter of the alphabet. Some of these you’ve probably heard of, others  you may not. Many of these are out of print, but can frequently be found from used game outlets or on PDF reprint sites like Drive-Thru RPG. Maybe you’ll find something new that sounds fun to try:

  • Aria: Really a game more about making a world than playing a character. Based on the idea of the “monomyth“, Aria drew on ideas popularized by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth.
  • Bunnies and Burrows: No, I’m not making this one up. Yes, it is a game where you play a rabbit. Inspired by the novel, Watership Down, the game (published in 1976) is known for being the first (to the best of my knowledge) to introduce martial-arts and skill systems.
  • Chill: A horror RPG system. Though never as popular as Call of Cthulhu, it did have a loyal following in the late ’80s and early ’90s (including myself).
  • Dr. Who: Published by FASA in 1985, and based on the British television series, players played renegade Time Lords and their companions working for the CIA — that’s the Celestial Intervention Agency, an illegal Gallifreyan organization set up to protect the universe from threats such as the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master.
  • Empire of the Petal Throne (Tékumel): Originally published in 1976, Tékumel outshone the other games of its day when it came to sheer detail of a fantasy world. It’s creator, Professor M.A.R. Barker created a world of astonishing complexity, including an actual language and written alphabet.
  • FUDGE (Free Universal Donated Gaming Engine): The first (to the best of my knowledge) widely-available free game system, Fudge offers a universal, rules-light system designed to be adapted to any setting the GM desires to run. It’s still available and still free. You can download it at Grey Ghost Press, Inc.

On Monday, I’ll post part 2 of this series: G-K. Until then, happy gaming!

“I hit him with a BoAF*… I mean Fireball!”

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*Ball of Abysmal Flame

One of my all-time favorite RPGs is Ars Magica. I love the fact that it doesn’t try to impose game balance limitations on mages. I also love the troupe-style play where everyone gets to play a magus/maga and something else. As a Storyguide, I love the fact that the group as a whole works together to create at least some of the NPCs (grogs).

But something else I hadn’t expected when I started playing Ars was how much it would improve my D&D characters.

I’d never really played many magic-users in D&D 1st ed., mostly because (and my current DM and fellow players are going to laugh at this) I couldn’t figure out how to use spells effectively. Seriously — beyond Magic Missle, Lightening Strike, and Fireball, I’d look at my spell list and my brain turned to jelly. Nothing MUs were able to do seemed to compare to the ability to pick locks, do massive amounts of damage with a two-handed sword, or lay hands to heal people.

Enter Ars Magica.

Ars has something of steep learning curve. Its magic system is definitely very different from D&D. It threw me for quite awhile, but after several game sessions of watching my fellow magi at their best, something clicked. I started to be able to see different uses for my Arts and Spells. I came to love Ars’ Sponteneous Magic. To this day, I rarely use formulaic spells.

Then I came back to D&D. I decided I wanted to give magic-users a try again, hoping my experience in Ars would help me. It did. I had a little difficultly refocusing my mind on formulaic spells, rather than spontaneous casting, which led me to prefer the sorcerer over the wizard class. Yes, I was still constricted to a spell list, but at least I could use any spell I knew any number of times. Truthfully, though, it wasn’t so much a number of spells or the amount of times I could cast one that made the decision for me: it’s the idea of the sorcerer as a natural caster that appeals to me.

I admit, when I create a new magic-user in D&D now, I think of them in Ars Magica terms first, then translate that into D&D as closely as I possibly can. For example, I’m currently play two different sorcerers in two different games. I’ll break them down into Ars concepts, then show the translation to D&D

Galen Gerhardt: In Ars Magica terms, Galen would be a member of House Jerbiton. He’s a court sorcerer and bard (and spy, but that’s neither here nor there…) of a powerful prince, with a Gentle Gift and an Animal Affinity. His specialty is Rego Mentum magic, though he’s got a strong amount of Rego Animal in there, too. In D&D terms, that translates into a human sorcerer heavy on the charm magics and people skills. His favorite spells: Eagle’s Splendor, Charm Monster, Charm Person, and Touch of Idiocy.

Feynan Starshadow: In Ars Magica terms, Feynan would be a rather stereotypical Flambeau, except his magic focuses on electricity rather than fire. Still, he’s heavy on the Creo Ignum magics and has faery blood. In D&D, he’s a half-elven sorcerer of the blaster type. His favorite spells: Lightening Bolt, Electric Loop and Lesser Orb of Electricity (from the Spell Compendium), frequently combined with Web.

By thinking of my magic-user in Ars terms, I’ve managed to create two completely different characters. I haven’t yet tried it with other game systems, but I can image it would work for them, too. And I’m sure this thinking would work for characters other than magic-users. How about you? What other systems have you drawn on to create D&D characters?

Oh — and for those of you wondering:

ArM Code 1.5 4- Ca+ R H++ L- G+++ Y1995 T– SG P++ HoH Cr+ Tr+ Ty++ J+ FZ C+ :-) Cd

D&D: the Future

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Predicting is always a tricky prospect. Where will D&D be in five years? 10 years? 20?

rpg blog carnival logoWhile I would love to sing D&D’s praises to the highest, I’m afraid that five years down the road, I won’t be playing it. What I mean is, that it’s unlikely I’ll be playing whatever the current edition of that time is. Most likely, I’ll still be playing 3.5 ed with the occasional “beer and pretzels” 1st ed game.

You see, I actually left the D&D fold completely after the introduction of 2nd ed. After playing (pretty much exclusively) D&D for almost 10 years, I got far more intrigued by other games: Amber, GURPS, Ars Magica, Trinity, World of Darkness, Traveller, various home-brew systems, including my own. I’d gotten frustrated with 1st ed’s limitations — that a thief always had the same skills as every other thief, etc., not to mention the whole alignment controversy (which I won’t go into here).

It was 3rd ed. that brought me back. The addition of skills and feats meant that I could have a thief that was more of a highway man, or a magic-user who was a “people person” and not a high-powered blaster. But despite the new additions to the system, I felt it still managed to keep the flavor of D&D. Now don’t ask me to quantify why — I can’t. It’s just to me it still, for some untangible reason, “feels” like the 1st ed. D&D done better.

Now 4th ed. doesn’t do a thing for me. To me, it feels like an MMORG brought to the tabletop. Not a bad thing, if that’s what you’re into and I can see how it would be very accessible for brand new players. It looks like, from my read-throughs, that it’s a good game in it’s own right. It’s just not my cup of tea for a number of reasons. And, to me, it doesn’t feel like D&D. Again, that’s an emotional, gut-reaction and I can’t put my finger on why. But because of it, I’m very unlikely to buy anything from the line.

Will there be a D&D in the future? I think there’ll still be something called “Dungeons and Dragons”. It’s staying power has been proven. Will I be playing it? That all depends on what the game does between now and then.

This post is part of the RPG Blogger’s July Blog Carnival.


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“You Want to Do What?”

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As a D&D player, I’ve developed a reputation for making combat use of non-combat spells. Sure, dealing out massive amounts of damage with Fireball or Lightening Strike is a lot of fun — there’s no denying that — but I get even more enjoyment out of find ways to use other spells in a fight. Whether it’s casting Nystul’s Magic Aura on all the party’s weapons (great for intimidating opponents in low-level games) or using Animate Rope to trip an opponent, I love watching the DM’s face whenever I come up with an idea he’s never seen before.

rpg blog carnival logoWhen I started playing 3.5 ed., I discovered that familiars can carry touch spells to a target and a whole new world opened up to me. My biggest success to date is the Touch of Idiocy spell. While our opponents were camping in the woods, I sent my weasel familiar to deliver Touch of Idiocy to the group’s sorcerer while he was tending to a “call of nature”. Since we were in a wooded area, I guessed he wouldn’t notice the presence of a normal woodland creature.

He didn’t. After removing 4 pts (each) of intelligence and wisdom and 6 pts of charisma, our opponents were without their spellcaster for the entire combat, allowing us to defeat them more easily than we would otherwise. Unfortunately, this trick now only works once in awhile, as word got around and our opponents have started killing every small creature than came near them.

Other “creative” spell uses I’ve come up with:

  • “Blanking out” written mission orders using Erase
  • Researching a new version of Reduce Person that only shrinks the actual person — not anything they’re wearing or carrying — and using that in combat. It’s really fun to watch your opponent get tangled up in their own clothes.
  • Using Detect Thoughts to determine if there were any invisible opponents around us. Granted, it doesn’t tell me where the invisible critters are, but it can at least warn me that I need to start looking for them.
  • Luring an opponent into a room with a single small doorway, then casting Enlarge Person on him, effectively trapping him until the spell wears off.
  • Using Levitate on a dropped or thrown weapon to put it up out of an opponent’s reach, keeping them from retrieving it.
  • Hiding an ambush using Rope Trick
  • Mending an opponent’s sheath opening. This traps their dagger or sword inside the sheath, making it take longer for your opponent to draw their weapon (thereby — sometimes — creating attacks of opportunity for our side).
  • Casting Grease on an opponent’s weapon handle (preferably before they draw it, thereby avoiding the need for a saving throw).

This post is part of the July RPG Blog Carnival, hosted (this month) by 6d6 Fireball.

Wormy’s Back!!!

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Old news to many of you, perhaps, but if you’re old enough to remember the old Dragon comic Wormy, Gaming Brouhaha is reposting the old strips, starting with #1. Check out his archives.

For those of you who joined the hobby later, check this out! It’s an absolutely hilarious comic. I loved this strip and it was always the first thing I read with each new issue of Dragon Magazine. It’s more than just a serious of funny situations and gags (though it’s definitely got plenty of those); the characters and their relationships to one another are well-thought out. Sometimes, Wormy and his buddies even play “D&D” 😉 . To this day, you’ll hear “Shut up Fred, you’re still unconscious” at our table.

Note: the strips are not being published with the original artist’s permission. However, Gaming Brouhaha went to every effort to attain permission from the original artist, David Trampier, but Trampier refuses to admit he even did the strips. For more information on this, check out the article on David Trampier at Wikipedia.

Edition Wars

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Edition wars. Where would D&D be without them? Even when I first started playing D&D back in 1980, there were already edition wars. Members of my first gaming group would argue the merits of Basic D&D vs. Advanced D&D vs. “the little brown books” (the boxed set of Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and Underworld & Wilderness Adventures).

My contribution to the Edition Wars topic is a little different. I haven’t really had a chance to try out a new addition of D&D, but I’m hoping to by the end of the month. If I get a chance, I’ll write a post about it.

rpg blog carnival logoD&D isn’t the only game to go through multiple editions. If you’ve read my post on upgrading to new editions, you know I’ve got a lot of older editions of games on my selves. Instead of rehashing the “which D&D edition is better” debate, I decided to list my favorite games that have multiple editions:

  • Dungeons & Dragons. The granddaddy of all RPGs. To date, I’ve played Basic D&D, AD&D (1st ed), D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5. I played 1st ed for so long I still remember that the saving throw chart was on pg. 79 of the DMG. That’s without looking at the books in almost 20 years (except to verify that saves were on pg. 79 😉 ). I loved that game and played the books to tatters. Even with that, I have to admit that 3.5 is my favorite edition so far. I love the skill system and feats which allow me to customize my character so I don’t have the exact same skill set as every other character of my class. I haven’t really played 2nd ed or 4th ed, so the jury’s still out on them.
  • World of Darkness. 2nd ed, hands down and straight across the board. Granted, I haven’t actually played the newest editions (I’m still reading through them) but I don’t care for what’s been done to the game’s setting. I’ll freely admit it’s probably due to old-fogeyness and I’m not above stealing material from other editions to use in my current game.
  • Ars Magica. 4th ed. I haven’t yet seen a copy of 5th ed, so I can’t really make a call on it. But I like Atlas’ take on the game better than White Wolf’s or WOTC’s. I feel that 4th ed has the most flavor of being truly medieval-based and historically inspired.
  • Traveller. Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4). I found (despite the horrible copy editing job of the book) this edition of the rules much easier to pick up and play than the original Classic Traveller. I haven’t played any of the other editions beyond these two, but T4 is definitely my favorite so far. Plus, I like the early Third Imperium setting.

Those are my preferences. But, as I mentioned above, I tend to take a little here and there from other editions of a game and shape them into my own house rules version of a game. So I’m curious — what edition of these games do you play and do you “borrow” from other editions. If you do, what do you use and how do you incorporate it into your game?

Gaming with Ghosts: When Good Players Can’t Be There

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I’ve said it before — everyone has situations that come up where they have to miss a session or two, sometimes at the last minute. After all, real-life issues have to take precidence over game ones. But as a GM, what do you do when Liza the Ranger gets called into work at the last minute?

In my experience, I’ve found you’ve got several options:

  1. Have the GM run the character. This is the most commonly used solution I’ve seen. It’s generally fair, as long as the GM doesn’t take the opportunity to run the character they way he would like to see it run, rather than the way the player does. This option works better in games that are heavily action-oriented, rather than role-playing oriented.
  2. Have another player run the character. Use this only when the absent player agrees to it. I’ve seen too many sessions have to be “rerun” because the returning player doesn’t like the way her character was played in her absence. Sometimes the missing player will ask a specific player to play her character for her — this is generally a good solution.
  3. The character is absent too. This is the solution I choose whenever possible. All of my players are adults with multiple real-life demands. I try to set up my games so that the characters can “step out” for a session to attend to personal matters from time to time. If a PC needs to attend to something alone, I try to have the player do this on a day they can’t be at the game. Before the next game session, I try to touch base with the missing player so we can work out (at least briefly) what his character as doing during the absence. Sometimes, though, you just can’t take this option — like when your PCs are in the middle of a dungeon.
  4. The character is present, but “out of commission”. The character could be drugged, knocked unconscious, engaged in a psionic battle, trapped (mentally) in an alternate dimension…there’s a wide range of possibilities. Again, only use this one with the player’s permission. This can be a good alternative to number 3, above. I tend to take this option if a player starts missing games or showing up late on a regular basis, especially if they do it without giving a reason.
  5. Run a “what if” or “it’s all a dream” game session. This can be a lot of fun, if all the players present understand that what happens in this game session will not be part of the “official” game. My players have even done this when I couldn’t be there. Another player takes over the role of GM and runs my game for me, based on what they think is going on.
  6. Conduct a series of “one-on-ones”. Take each player who can make it aside for awhile and run a one-on-one session with them. The session could be something the PC’s been wanting to do for a while or could be a scene from the PC’s past. I’ll occasionally do this when I’ve got less than half my players, but people still want to play. Players not currently involved with me generally shoot the breeze with each other (frequently in character), play card or board games, etc.
  7. Take the opportunity to run a “one-shot”. I’ll frequently toss a convention scenario I’m working on or other such short adventure  with pre-gen characters in my game bag and use that if I’ve got too many “no shows” but the rest of the players want to play something.
  8. Run a henchmen one-shot. Have everyone play one of their assistants, henchmen, ghouls, hired hands, bodyguards, etc. in a one-shot scenario.

It’s helpful to have a set policy about what to do with missing players’ characters. Do you run if one or more player is missing? How many players have to be missing before you cancel the game? Discuss this with your players when you first begin the campaign and settle on a basic guideline you all can live with. Generally, I’ll run if I have at least half my players. If I have less than half, we’ll either cancel that session or do #5, 6, 7, or 8 above.

The important thing is for the GM and players to come to a mutually-agreeable solution. Try to set a policy and stick to it as much as possible. That way, it’s fair for everyone and your players will know what to expect when real-life encroaches and they just can’t be there.

Everything I Know I Learnt from D&D: 20 Life Lessons Gaming’s Taught Me

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  1. Be nice to the people who have your back.
  2. When you leave home, always make sure you’ve got a bedding, food, water, a knife, and a light source, even if you’re just going to be gone “a few hours”. You never know when a freak storm may hit.
  3. Babysitting missions are always more trouble than their pay is worth.
  4. Romance blossoms between the unlikeliest people.
  5. Bring your own rations — what your teammate eats may not be food to you.
  6. Anyone who says “This is a simple job” is lying and looking for a cut-rate deal.
  7. It’s hard to adventure when you’re carrying a baby.
  8. Even when you’re sure the mama is dead and gone, leave the baby where it is.
  9. A rope, a dagger, and a 50′ pole can overcome most obstacles.
  10. If you think you’re being watched, you probably are.
  11. On long trips, it really is nice to have someone who can sing.
  12. Never trust someone else’s map.
  13. Bring comfortable shoes — at some point, you’re going to need to hoof it.
  14. Never pack more than you can carry.
  15. Saying “Can’t we all just get along?” is the quickest way to being dead.
  16. Never insult your employer. Especially about their name.
  17. You don’t have to like the people you work with…but it sure helps.
  18. Never leave horses, princesses, children or familiars by themselves.
  19. Never assume someone can’t understand your language. Especially if you’re insulting them.
  20. NEVER touch the “wam-wam”.

rpg blog carnival logoThis article is part of the RPG Blog Carnival. I’d actually started this post before I discovered the Carnival, so I had to participlate. Each week I’m going to tackle a different questions from this month’s topic.

More seriously, I think I’ve learned most of my social skills from gaming. Since I started gaming in 1980, I’ve gone from being the classic “foot-in-your-mouth-inadvertantly-insult-everyone-you-talk-to gamer geek” (yes, girls can be gamer geeks too!) to being the “bard” of the party, in real life as well in game. You know, the person who does all the negotiations ’cause they get the best results and the best deals? Gaming gave me a reason to learn to get along with other people, especially people I may not like.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like now without D&D. I wouldn’t have met any of my closest friends, the people who’ve always “had my back” and who’ve stayed with me through thick and thin. Heck, without gaming, I wouldn’t have my son — his father and I met during a game session. I’ve learned how to plan projects, innovate solutions from tools found at hand, and carry things through to completion, even when they originally seemed “too hard”.

Without D&D I wouldn’t be the person I am.

Fred’s Missing *Again*?

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Every player has days they can’t make a game. Sometimes, a great conjunction of events happens and a player has to miss a session at the very last minute. It happens to all of us.

These aren’t the players I’m referring to.

It can be one of the most frustrating things about a running a game: having players who are chronic no-shows. My ex-husband and his brother are players like this. My ex was once 8 hours late to a game (without calling) and couldn’t figure out why everyone was mad at him. I usually found out that his brother wasn’t going to make a game when my father-in-law announced it on the way in the door for the game session itself.

Unfortunately, I’ve only found one cure for it — boot them from that game and don’t accept them into another. I don’t like to be mean. I understand real life — I’m a single parent, I work, take care of a house and deal with a chronic and sometimes dehibilitating illness. I try very hard to warn the GMs of any game I’m going to be in that I may have to “no-show” at the last minute for health reasons. But I try very hard to call and let the GM know as soon as I can. Most of my players are IT people and are frequently on-call. I have one great player who hasn’t been able to make it to character-building sessions for my new game because he’s been pulling 10 hour days at work dealing with server issues. I can work with this.

But the chronic “I just don’t feel like coming” or the person who habitually turns up 1+ hours late with no call and no explanation infuriates me. It’s rude. It’s unfair the GM who’s usually put in a lot of work for each character in the game and is basing that game on the fact that certain PC’s are going to be there. It’s unfair to the other players, especially if the MIA player is a crucial character for an upcoming encounter or situation. In my opinion, it’s a sign of supreme selfishness.

I make allowences for real life; I don’t make allowances for selfish indifference.