Wednesday 21 February 2024

RPGaDay 2023

I usually don't participate in any sort of community blog event for several reasons, but last year's RPGaDay questions seemed interesting enough to tackle. However, I quite dislike releasing a bunch of small posts so I combined all the questions and answers into this one.

Day 1: FIRST RPG played (in 2023)

It was early January that we started a new campaign of Werewolf: the Forsaken (1st edition). Although my love for the Storytelling System has waned considerably (compared to the late 00s when it was our most played system), the animistic nature of Werewolf and the particular implementation of the Shadow Realm (especially the way it was elaborated on in the Book of Spirits) still makes it one of my favourite settings conceptually. If I were to redesign the rules, though, I'd probably go for something close to Rivers of London and Imperium Maledictum, although the whole spirit rank system just cries for a level-based approach. I would have to make sure that either combat is quick (like, OD&D quick) or actually interesting (with the caveat that making it into a power-based tactical game would be pretty cool and a disservice to the setting at the same time).


I actually don't remember the first GM I met (probably someone in my first group, possibly Szabolcs running 7th Sea or Viktor running MAGUS that one time), so I'm going to interpret this as the first RPG I GMed, which was Shadowrun 3rd edition. Despite its many flaws, I would still be down to run the game. It might not come to pass, though, as Sinless, a retro-clone of old-school Shadowrun, will soon be released.

Day 3: First RPG BOUGHT (in 2023)

The first PDFs I bought were The Sword of Cepheus and Superpowered. The only physical gaming products I picked up in 2023 are a few gamebooks (the first batch was all by Victoria Hancox) and a wargame (Western Front Ace).

Day 4: Most RECENT game bought

The one I bought most recently is Super Action Role-Play. The most recently published one I picked up is Imperium Maledictum.

Day 5: OLDEST game you've played

It has to be OD&D, right?

Day 6: Favourite game you NEVER get to play

That's a tricky one, because I enjoy "running" RPGs way more than "playing" them. Nevertheless, if we talk strictly about "playing" RPGs, I wish I had more opportunities to play OD&D (I'm not elitist, though; Delving Deeper, Age of Conan, or Champions of ZED would also suffice). I want it fast and loose, with large skirmishes and each player (sooner rather than later) having henchmen and hirelings and mercenaries. Kinda like a large narrative skirmish game, actually. If we're talking about games I'd like to run but seemingly never can, well, that's a big list, but here's a few things on my mind at the moment: (1) a cross between OD&D and the narrative campaign in the Realm of Chaos books; (2) a Braunstein-like game of Boot Hill, with miniatures and asymmetric player forces (I would love to run something similar with Battle Troll, too); (3) a wuxia sandbox, either using Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blade or Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate.

Day 7: SMARTEST RPG you've played

Torchbearer is weirdly good (the ways its subsystems interact with each other is like a well-oiled machine), even though it didn't scratch the right itch for me. Lancer, although probably not the smartest overall, is also well-designed (if you're into 4E-style tactical combat and mechas), both in terms of player abilities (and their interactions) and enemy design (although there's really not enough GM tools in the core book to set up fights). Mazes & Minotaurs, maybe? It's so incredibly slick and robust, but is it smart?

It almost feels to me like the smartest one has to be the most versatile one.... something like GURPS, HERO, or EABA.

Day 8: Favourite CHARACTER

I am rarely a player, and I don't find my own characters particularly memorable... But there was a halfling warrior in Narmor's Dungeon World campaign, Finnegan, that I really enjoyed playing. I generally remember the games, not my characters.

If characters that played in my campaigns are allowed, then I have quite a few favourites:

  • Scott the hacker and John the cop from my first nWoD campaign back in secondary school
  • Csillámcsóró Csongor (Premier suggested Gilbert Glassglad, but it's impossible to translate accurately), a cleric of the Order of Glassbreakers; all because the character's random starting item from a d100 table was a piece of broken glass
  • Zöldfogú Harald (Harald Greentooth), a warrior in my Vikings & Valkyries campaign, the least successful member in a family of womanisers

Day 9: Favourite DICE

I was gifted a set of D&D-branded metal dice some time ago; I have underrated the incredibly satisfying tactility the heft of metal dice have for too long!

Still, my absolutely favourite dice are a set of plastic purple dice. They have been with me for ages, in sickness and in health.

Also, d12s are underrated.

Day 10: Favourite tie-in FICTION

I don't really read RPG-related fiction (although I copy edited a few short stories and novellas of the kind). In fact, most of the fiction I read is categorised as "classic literature" (my top three probably being The Count of Monte Cristo, Brave New World, and Előre, gonoszok!), although by now I have read some pulp fantasy and sci-fi as well.

Day 11: WEIRDEST game you've played

Either Puppetland or My Life with Master. While the former fell pretty flat for me, the latter I remember as one of my favourite games of all time (just to be clear, I used game as shorthand for "not quite one session but not really a campaign... two sessions, to be exact").

Day 12: Old game you STILL play

My taste in gaming has changed considerably over the years. Basically, I don't really play any of the games I started out with any more. I'm also largely over my "old-school only" period in gaming — now I'm into narrative skirmish games :P

Day 13: Most memorable character DEMISE

I'm not a particularly cruel referee, but there certainly have been a number of PC deaths over the years. Still, my favourite is probably the one which led to the birth of another: Kron literally rose from the ashes of the player's previous character (thanks to the quick chargen of Kazamaták és Kompániák).

Day 14: Favourite CONVENTION purchase

I don't have any. The local conventions I attended weren't usually selling stuff.

Day 15: Favourite Con MODULE / ONE-SHOT

My absolute favourite convention module, due to its sheer weirdness, was Urban's Dekomoran scenario (which is a tongue-in-cheek play on Boccaccio's Decameron and the Hungarian word "komor", E. sombre). It was run with the real first edition of Warhammer, but the true sauce was the highly absurdist setting. My memories are quite vague, but an oneiric recollection fits the scenario perfectly!

Day 16: Game you WISH you owned

That's a tricky question, because most games that interest me can be acquired at least in digital form, and I rarely purchase physical products (I do print out a lot of reference material, though, often of my own design). The first edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (now just Hyperborea) is something I wouldn't mind getting my hands on. Even though I like 2nd edition the most in terms of rules and layout, I find the first edition's unified visual style more appealing. Another one is The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition, which comes with all sorts of maps and counters and whatnot. Unfortunately, shipping costs make it a very unfeasible purchase for me, especially because most of our games are played online these days.

Day 17: FUNNIEST game you've played

Humour is a big component in virtually all of my games (it's inevitable and even desirable when you play with your close friends), so there's a bunch of weird little emergent events that we look back on fondly... Let me pick one at random.

The party fought some ghouls in a dungeon; some members have been paralysed, including the berserker (remember, it lasts for quite a while in older editions). The player made it explicit that he intends to start raging immediately when the effect ends (the characters were able to deduce his state of mind by looking deep into his crazy eyes; but honestly, this wouldn't have been the most meta moment anyways). The party moved the berserker to a cleared room a couple corridors away and locked themselves up in a different room (including a local NPC from the village above). Y'know, for good measure.

Paralysis ends, rage ensues. We're counting rounds. Open doors check succeeds. The player gives an equal chance to all directions. The berserker's heading straight towards the party's location. Decides he'll try forcing a door open no longer than 3 rounds. Fortunately, the party's holding up successfully.

Next door opens on the first try. In a pit, there's a girl — a werewolf (not in control of her transformation). She sees the berserker open up the pit. She starts transforming. Rage stops, berserker falls to the ground exhausted. Party members come out and investigate. They manage to grab the berserker and pull him in the same room they were hiding in, but the werewolf follows them.

They know they can't hold the door long enough, so they move into the crypt whence the ghouls originally attacked. Meanwhile, it turns out the boy knows the girl (in fact, they are in love, and freeing her from this dungeon was his secret motivation all along). People suspect the crypt door won't hold long either — they need to sacrifice something. Or someone. The berserker throws the boy at the rampaging werewolf and closes the crypt door. The girl, upon realising what she's done, wanders off into the dungeon — they never saw her again.

Day 18: Favourite game SYSTEM

That's a tough one. I obviously really like Kazamaták és Kompániák (you can find a few English posts here), but I'm also partial to The Fantasy Trip, Mongoose Traveller, and Call of Cthulhu / BRP.

Day 19: Favourite PUBLISHED adventure

One of my favourite adventure modules (one that I both played at a convention and later ran for my own group as well) is Melan's In the Name of the Principle. It's the perfect campaign starter: the players are tasked with a difficult mission of eliminating key figures in a city. It's an open-ended scenario with a clear initial goal — my favourite structure.

It might be cheating, but I'd like to nominate another favourite (campaign) module: Masks of Nyarlathotep. We haven't finished it yet with my group (although we're getting close), but I can already say it absolutely deserves being called the best published campaign module.

Day 20: Will still play in TWENTY years time...

I cannot really say. Twenty years is a long time... I will still probably run some form of OSR game (whether OD&D, Kazamaták és Kompániák, AS&SH, or something close to those). Aside from that, I have no idea.

Day 21: Favourite LICENSED RPG

I rarely play licensed RPGs. Does Dark Heresy count (as FFG licensed it from GW)? Or WFRP 4E?

Day 22: Best SECONDHAND RPG purchase

My very first RPG purchase was a used copy of a Hungarian game called Codex. Later I acquired a better quality copy of both the core rules and the magic supplement (Grimoire), and I haven't bought any secondhand books since (well, at least not RPG books).

Day 23: COOLEST-looking RPG product / book

The then-boyfriend of the older sister of a friend of mine had a Werewolf: the Apocalypse book with the claw marks cut into the cover. It really impressed me as a teenager.

Day 24: COMPLEX / SIMPLE RPG you play

I had a fairly extensive minimalist era with regards to rules, but I actually prefer crunchy games. One of my current favourites is Lancer (even though it's far from perfect), and I have also been impressed with WFRP 4E so far.

My favourite simple game is probably Mazes & Minotaurs (well, Vikings & Valkyries) followed closely by Ghastly Affair. Also Call of Cthulhu.

Day 25: UNPLAYED RPG you own

I have quite a few of those... The ones I really want to try at some point include Kult (1st edition), Modern War, Pendragon, and Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blade.

Day 26: Favourite CHARACTER SHEET

For a long while, my favourite character sheets have been those made by MrGone for the (old and new) World of Darkness. I'm also partial to the various d100 character sheets (Call of Cthulhu, BRP, WFRP, Against the Darkmaster, etc.).

Nowadays, I usually make my own character sheets in GoogleSheets, where I can semi-automate and share them with my players. It's definitely a function-over-form matter for me.

Day 27: Game you'd like a new EDITION of...

Hm, let me see...

  • Behind Enemy Lines (new layout and more examples of play; new and more maps)
  • ForeSight (an improvement and modernisation following the groundwork laid down in the previous editions and the James Bond RPG to become a generic system for modern and futuristic action-adventure games with a simulationist bend)
  • Magic World (along with supplements and proper support from Chaosium)
  • Mutant Chronicles (an improvement upon 2nd edition instead of the 2d20 system)
  • Rifts (with a cleaned up but familiar system with much better organisation; gun & robot porn should stay, but the various options need to be mechanically significant)

Day 28: SCARIEST game you've played

I'm not sure I was ever "scared" while playing, and I don't think I ever really inflicted terror on my players. Some of my earlier World of Darkness games were pretty freaky, although usually more surreal than terrifying.

Day 29: Most memorable ENCOUNTER

My players really liked the dung monster in Rappan Athuk. We've also had some good fights in Lancer so far.

However, most of the memorable events in my games aren't really encounters but rather my players' responses to certain situations that often spiral out of control. The tale with the werewolf I shared above... The time when they used a Trojan Horse Beornian Goat to get into a village... When they accidentally killed (and then replaced in My Fair Lady fashion) the bride of a noble whose precious stone they were after... The list goes on.

Day 30: OBSCURE RPG you've played

The three most obscure games I played in the last 20 years, I reckon, are My Life with Master, Puppetland, and Warhammer: The Mass Combat Fantasy Roleplaying Game.

Day 31: FAVOURITE RPG of all time

It has to be a tie between Vikings & Valkyries and AS&SH (now Hyperborea). I generally like their mechanics, their settings, and all the memories we have generated playing them.

Monday 19 February 2024

Lindenbaum 2021/22: Archer (by Morten Gottschalck)

This is part of a series where I briefly talk about the Lindenbaum Prize winners and runners-up. This is a friendly gamebook-writing competition, organised yearly by Stuart Lloyd. The entry discussed below was submitted for the 2021/2022 competition and won a Commendation Award. You can find the details of the competition here, links to all entries here, and the announcement of the winners here. Needless to say, all of these are available for free in PDF.

In this one you play a young hunter. You need to gather the funds to enter an archery competition and be ranked among the best three to have enough money to support your family (and perhaps allow you to take some time off adventuring and travelling). In this sense, some outcomes are better than others, but you don't need to win the competition to get a "good ending".

Mechanically, it's very straightforward. You need to keep track of your money (you need ten crowns to enter the competition) and your single stat, Concentration. Tests are rolled on 2d6, and you succeed on an equal or lower result. Concentration begins at 8, but it may be modified depending on your actions. Difficult tasks are usually represented by adding a number to your roll, or sometimes having you roll twice or with a different number of dice.

The author writes in a competent manner, using fairly descriptive and evocative prose. Word choices are mostly fine, and the details mentioned indicate a clear vision in the author's mind. However, the text is full of typos and grammatical errors. It's not worse than what an average internet user may encounter in any international space, but it still felt distracting.

The whole game consists of only 83 sections (numbered from 1 to 93, with a handful of missing numbers, and one unreachable paragraph), in circa 20k words. There are 20 bad endings and 5 good endings. It seems pretty rough, and luck obviously plays an important role, but overall I'd say it's pretty fair. Maybe a few of the bad endings could have had a few more steps, but I'm much more tolerant of harsh consequences in a short gamebook. Plus, if you could wander about too much, it would lose focus and stop being a short gamebook in the first place.

Things to improve upon:

  • spelling and grammar (the prose would otherwise be pretty good)
  • making sure all sections are reachable
  • a few times the wording on modifiers was ambiguous (although the intent is trivial to work out)
  • the game didn't really need both silver and gold coins; one of them should have sufficed
  • I missed one particular outcome winning 1st prize in the competition but it's also sorta humbling not having it in the game
  • the deal with the pouch of dust felt disconnected; maybe because of the length constraints? I thought it was a little random, to be frank