What RPG games do you want on deserted island?

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deserted islandIf you were stranded on a desert island, what five RPG games would you want with you?

The RPG Circus podcast posed this question at the beginning of December and it got me thinking. For the purposes of the question, it was assumed you would be able to choose the systems you were stranded with and that you could have all the dice, supplements, paper, pencils, etc. that you needed. It also assumes that there would be other people stranded with you, so you’d have players.

Here’s my list of five:

  1. Classic World of Darkness – Yeah, okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one, since it’s actually five separate games. But I love this setting and I’ve had many happy hours playing it. If I absolutely had to pick only one of this games, it would be Mage: the Ascension.
  2. D&D – No brainer, right? The grandaddy of all RPGs. The only real problem here would be if I had to choose an edition. I’d either want 1st ed AD&D or 3rd ed (d20). Each has their strengths and weaknesses, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d go with 3rd ed., since I find it a more flexible system. But I’ve also got a soft spot for 1st ed, since it got me started in gaming.
  3. Savage Worlds – I wanted a generic system in this list and I love Savage World’s innovative dice system (combined with playing cards) as well as the “wild die.”
  4. Traveller (4th edition, also called “Marc Miller’s Traveller”) – Yes, this edition had issues with editing, but it was the first version of the game that made me go “Oooh, I want to play that,” despite the fact that I also have a good chunk of the original “Black Box” books. I love the campaign setting and reading it gave me more campaign ideas than I could possibly use in a lifetime. I also prefer it to the “Black Box” edition partially because computers no longer take up a huge amount of your ship’s capacity and you can’t die during character creation. I’ve never gotten a chance to play in a Traveller campaign, but it’s on my bucket list of games.
  5. Skyrealms of Jorune – I’ve only gotten a taste of this game in a campaign that lasted about three sessions, but I would love to play more in this unique setting. I figure if I’m stuck on a deserted island, I’d have the time to sit down and really learn the game setting as well as being able to convince other people to play it.

It was hard to choose just five. I figure I’d also have Amber, because I already have everything I need to run it in my head. But I’d have loved to include Everway, Cyberpunk 2020, Trinity, Shadowrun and In Nomine, as well.

What about you? What five game would you want with you if you were stranded on an island and why?

[Image courtesy of steve conry via Flickr Creative Commons.]

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From the Basement: Tales from the Floating Vagabond

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floating-vagabond-coverSam the Bartender: Okay, you’re facing a small horde of Disgustingly Cute Furry Things and behind them are a handful of space NAZIs who seem to be driving the DCFT directly at you.
Rufus: Hey Guys! I’m not really seeing a choice here: I think we’re going to have to get through the DCFTs to get to the space NAZIs.
Callista: [Draws a sword]. Right!
Hairy: Aw, but they’re so cute…
Callista: Exactly. Sam, I’m going to cut my way through these critters to get at the space NAZIs.
Bartender: Give me Swing Nasty Pointy Thing roll. They’re all in one big pack, so make it a d6–you can’t swing without hitting at least one.
Callista: Actually, I’ve got Swing Nasty Pointy Thing With Panache. [Rolls d6] 3.
Bartender: You take down several of them with one swipe of your sword.
Callista: Did it do it With Panache?
Bartender: Give me a Look Good At All Times roll, d10.

Tales from the Floating Vagabond is an out-of-print Avalon Hill game that bills itself as a “Ludicrous Adventure in a Universe Whose Natural Laws Are Out To Lunch.” It’s also a pretty good description of the game. In what other game can your character have skills like Mess With Dangerous Goop, Chase Cars, or Make Wiseass Remark? Where else can you fire a Don’t Point That Thing At My Planet-sized gun or use a Guttern Exten-Do-Spear or a Weedeater (yes, the stats for it are in the book. It’s a classified as a Long Nasty Pointy Thing weapon).

In addition to the usual skills and stats, every character  in Floating Vagabond has the chance to get a Schtick. The rules describe a Schtick as “something a character does or causes to happen around him that is designed to add to the comedic content of the game.” Each Schtick has a major effect and may have a minor effect. The major effect is something that can actually help a player, while the minor effect is primarily for comedic purposes. Schticks range from the Schwarzenegger Effect that allows the PC to ignore wound penalties and effects (as long as no one sees him get any kind of first aid) to the John Doe Effect that causes people to mistake the character for someone else they know.

The mechanics of Floating Vagabond are simple: the GM (called the “Bartender”) assigns a difficulty to the task at hand and tells the character to roll a die that corresponds to that difficulty level. The higher the difficulty, the more sides the die has. For example: a Pitifully Easy task requires a d4, while a Nigh Impossible task requires a d100. The player (called a “Patron”) then compares the resulting number to his skill level. If the number is lower than the skill level, he succeeds. Otherwise, he fails. Combat works different from skill mechanics, but is equally easy.

Tales from the Floating Vagabond is a great game for those nights when you don’t have enough players for your usual game. Characters can be created very quickly, or players (excuse me: Patrons) can use one of the sample characters given in the book. The book also contains a short adventure: “Excedrin Headache #186,000.” Avalon Hill also published a supplement (Bar Wars) and a couple of modules for the game.

Heck, the Patrons could even translate their regular characters into Floating Vagabond characters. This game takes the “You’re sitting in a bar” cliched adventure start and makes it the basis for the game. The Floating Vagabond itself is trans-dimensional bar and most adventures in this game start from there. The Floating Vagabond’s owner installed a Random Dimensional Portal Generator on the door of the establishment. Which  means people can go through the door of a bar or tavern in their own dimension and end up in the The Floating Vagabond.

As I mentioned above, TF2V has been out of print for many years now, but it’s currently available from DriveThruRPG.com, as are the supplement Bar Wars and two modules: The Reich Stuff and Hypercad 54, Where Are You? If you act really quickly (before 8 March 2010), you can get all the TF2V items they carry at a substantial discount in honor of GMs Day.

Other From the Basement Posts:

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Goolies and Ghosties and Things That Go Bump in the Night

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In keeping with the Halloween spirit, here’s a list of horror RPGs to check out:

  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten. An award-winning zombie survival game. Try to keep your brains intact ;) .
  • Call of Cthulhu. The granddaddy of horror RPGs. Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s world. Remember, once your sanity score reaches 0, you no longer have to roll…
  • Chill. Designed to have the same feel as horror movies, it’s a very flexible system that can handle many different types of horror.
  • Deadlands. A horror game set in the Old West. Uses playing cards in poker-style play is used for magical and steampunk effects.
  • GURPS: Horror. Another flexible game which can be used to simulate all kinds of horror stories. Even if you don’t use GURPS, this is a great book for inspiration or as a resource.
  • Kult. Angels and demons set in a world that’s slowly unraveling to reveal a much darker Reality.
  • Ravenloft. An AD&D Gothic horror setting. Can you fight the Dark Powers or will you slowly succumb to your darker nature?
  • Whispering Vault, The. Become a Stalker and hunt down threats to humanity.
  • Wraith: the Oblivion. The classic version. Really, most of the World of Darkness games are a type of horror game. I chose Wraith because of it’s unique Shadow system. You play your character, but you also play another PC’s shadow side, attempting to corrupt that PC to his doom.

What’s your favorite horror RPG? Have you played any of the games mentioned? What did you like and/or not like about them?

From the Basement: In Nomine

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Angels and demons. The core of In Nomine. If you’ve ever dreamt of playing one of the Heavenly Host or a Satan spawn from the depths of Hell, this is your game. Even if you haven’t, it’s still worth checking out. In Nomine ranks in the top five of my all-time favorite games.

In Nomine coverExcuse My French

In Nomine is based on a French game called In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas. But the American version, published by Steve Jackson, is no mere translation of the French game. The folks at SJGames made changes, making the game (according to them) more appealing to an American audience. I’d love to do a From the Basement coverage of the original French game; unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on a copy. If anyone has one they’d like to sell…

God Does Not Does Play Dice With This Universe

One interesting thing about this game is its dice system. Like GURPS it uses d6′s, but that’s where the resemblance ends. In Nomine uses three six-sided dice, one of which should be a different color from the other two. The basic mechanics are straight-forward: roll two sixes and total them. Add in situational modifiers. If the resulting number is lower than the total of the character’s appropriate stat + skill score, you succeed. If it’s higher, you fail.

Then comes an interesting bit — you’re actually rolling all three d6′s. The third die isn’t added into your total — called the check digit, it indicates the degree of success or failure. A low result means a borderline success or failure, a high result means a particularly spectacular success or dismal failure. The GM interprets the check die to describe the results of your character’s actions.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. If you roll a natural result of 111 (a one on all three dice) or 666, things get really interesting. Called an intervention (DI — divine intervention — for short), a roll of 111 means God’s favor smiles upon you. Great if you’re playing an angel; not so good if you’re playing a demon. A roll of 666 means you’ve gained the personal attention of Down There.

Baby, You’ve Got Character

Character creation is simple and very quick. Groups I’ve played with have been able to finish character creation in under an hour, even if they’re new to the game. The steps are as follows:

  1. Find out from the GM if you’re playing angels or demons. You may be running a mixed party of both, but that works much better for one-shots than for on-going games.
  2. Choose a Choir (for angels) or Band (for demons). Each Choir/Band has different powers, called resonances. These range from always knowing if someone’s telling the truth (Seraphim, an angelic Choir) to being able to destroy things with your mind (Calabim, a demonic Band).
  3. Choose a superior — which archangel or demon prince do you serve? Your superior gives you further powers.
  4. Purchase levels of the three Forces, corresponding to body (Corporeal), mind (Ethereal), and spirit (Celestial). Depending on the type of character you’re playing, you have between five to nine Forces, which you can spread out as you please among the three types.
  5. The level of your Forces determine your characteristics (stats/attributs) scores. You’ve got six characteristics, two for each type of force: Strength and Agility (Corporeal), Intelligence and Precision (Ethereal), Will and Perception (Celestial).
  6. Purchase further powers and/or resources from a pool of points. Resources include skills, Songs (like spells), possessions, servants, extra bodies, etc…

Skills are broad and many of a character’s powers are determined by his Choir/Band and Superior. This leaves few choices for the player to make, which has its good points and bad points. On one hand, you can create characters very quickly; on the other hand … well, you have limited choices.

In the Mood

The In Nomine games I’ve played and ran tended to be rather tongue-in-cheek; the game lends itself to a light-hearted mood. But there’s no reason you couldn’t run a serious campaign. Like many games from the 90′s, the setting tends to be dark, even when it’s funny. For one thing, the angels of this game aren’t your fuffy, “sit on white clouds strumming harps” angels. Think Prophecy, rather than Touched by an Angel.

The quick character creation means that this game works as well as a series of one-shots as it does an on-going campaign. Given a fairly straight-forward objective, you can easily run an entire adventure in one evening, including character creation.

That’s All, Folks!

Steve Jackson Games — to the best of my knowledge — isn’t putting any more In Nomine material in print, but there’s been some support in the form of PDF material. You can find these at e23, including an introductory adventure called The Sorcerer’s Impediments. This PDF contains 4 pre-generated characters and all the mechanics you need to run the adventure, allowing you to try the game out for free.

If you’ve played In Nomine, please share your experiences, good and bad.

Just remember:

Angels always do more damage.

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From the Basement: Everyway

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I’m starting a new feature here in this blog. In “From the Basement” posts, I’m going to dig up an older game and review it. Today’s game is Everway.

Everway game box imageI have to admit, when it came out, I paid little attention to Everway. Everything I read and heard about it seemed to indicate it was a game slanted at new gamers and with 15 years of game experience under my belt at the time, why would I need a beginner’s game? Plus, with it’s box and cards it seemed … well … kitschy.  But when our local game store marked their copies down to $3 apiece, I bought a set … just for the collection, of course.

I don’t remember what prompted our group to try the game, but somehow I ended up volunteering to run a short-term campaign. That was when I fell in love with the game.  Everway is great system for groups who want story and character-focused games without a lot of pesky mechanics to get in the way.

Character Creation

Character creation begins with what the game calls “The Vision Stage” — where you come up with a character idea. Before you ever start filling in numbers, you decide who your character is. The game comes with several “vision cards” — fantasy art cards. You chose five of these that appeal to you and write your character around them. Then comes the “questions stage” where you present your five cards and basic character concept to the other players, who then ask you questions about him and the cards you’ve chosen to represent him.

Once you’ve got a basic concept of your character, you move on to the “identity stage”. At this point, you choose a name for your character and decide on a motive — the character’s reason for adventuring. After that, you chose three cards from the Fortune Deck — a deck of cards with a similar feel to tarot or other divination decks — describing your character’s virtue (a special talent, gift, or beneficial trait), fault (a weakness of flaw), and fate (an inner conflict your character has that will shape his destiny).

Only now in the creation process do you start figure numbers for your character.  Each character has four stats corresponding the four classical elements: earth, air, fire, water. Earth covers health, strength, endurance — a character’s physical traits. Air covers intelligence, wisdom, communication — a character’s mental abilities. Fire covers action, combat skills, speed. Water covers feeling, intuition, empathy. Stats are done with a simple point-buy system and each character gets one free special ability and you can spend more points to gain further powers, like the ability to use magic. The numbers stage of character creation tends to go very quickly, since players have already developed their character concept before even reaching this stage of creation.

I found this method of character creation very enjoyable. Frequently I tend to play the same type of character over and over no matter the game system or genre. But this method caused me to come up with a character I loved that was very different from my norm.


To say Everway is rules-light would be an understatement. The basic game mechanics are simple — you tell the GM what you want to do and the GM tells you what happens as a result. It’s a completely diceless system, in the tradition of Amber Diceless. If a GM is uncertain what the outcome of a character’s action should be, she can draw a card from the Fortune Deck and use it’s image or meaning (the game comes with a booklet describing the meaning of each of the Fortune Cards) to inspire her. The character’s stats are used as a rough guide to ability — if a character has a high Fire score, they’re much more likely to win a combat against a character with a low one, for example.

Overall Impressions

I enjoy this game very much. I found the visual input from both the vision cards and and the Fortune Deck helped me immensely when describing both setting and PC actions and outcomes. But it is very GM-dependent and requires a GM who’s comfortable running “off-the-cuff”. The players, too, need be flexible and willing to place the coutcome of their actions solely in the hands of the GM.

If you prefer a more structured gaming style, Everway is definitely not for you. Gamers who like “crunchy” systems will likely find this game a exercise in frustration and the lack of randomized outcome generation does eliminate luck as a factor. Generally, you’re not going to have the incredible successes and wild botches tha gaming stories are made of.

I’ve run Everway games for beginning as well as experienced players and it does make a good introduction to roleplaying game concepts. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginning GMs, however. Still, if you’re looking for a change in fantasy game, Everway could be just what you’re looking for.