Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
I actually don’t do a lot of tinkering with RPG rules. I just assume that the authors have done their best to get an exciting and balanced game, and most of the time that works out well enough.
So the real answer is: almost all of them.
Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?
The Apocalypse World Engine games have a strong tradition of adapting a game to do something else. Dungeon World started as a ‘hack’ of Apocalypse World, for instance — but it is now its own thing. Almost every AWE game includes a chapter with advice on how to adapt the game to your own needs and tastes, and shows how changing some ‘moving parts’ will affect the type of game you will get as a result. I really like that DIY attitude, and I find the insights into the design considerations fascinating.
Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?
None of them: I’m kind of done with open-ended campaigns. There’s so many different games with their own different settings and potential stories, and I am greedy. I want to experience it all! So like I wrote earlier, I’d rather play short, focused campaigns — so that I can experience a game to its logical conclusion and then move on to the next, to experience a different ruleset, a different setting, a different story.
I have never had an open-ended campaign come to a logical and satisfactory conclusion, so I’d rather not invest my time in one.
Describe a game experience that changed how you play.
Playing Dungeon World and other Apocalypse World Engine games really changed how I approach games these days. The “Play To Find Out” mode of play is really interesting because it actively invites player input. It made me decide not to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen, because that module puts the adventuring party on rails and takes away a lot of their ‘agency’ in the module.
A player should have full authority over what their character does or attempts to do. And these long-term campaigns, they can be full of “no, you can’t do that” moments, and HotDQ relied on that to keep the story flowing. Needless to say, I didn’t think it was very good. And playing PTFO-games only strengthened that distaste.
That is not to say there are no problems with PTFO games. Rather, they tend to be rather sprawling and meandering, because there are all these loose threads introduced in play that may or may not need resolving. And as I wrote in the answer to question 9, I’m kind of done with large campaigns. It’s a fine line to walk: on one hand, you want to invite player input and not over-prepare; on the other hand, you want a coherent narrative that can be wrapped up in a reasonable time-frame. Best thing to do, I think, is to invite lots of input in the first half of the campaign, and then, during prep time, turn that into a single narrative and work towards a satisfying conclusion.
Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?
I’ll give an honourable mention to Dungeon Crawl Classics. The interior art is that wobbly, detailed style with lots and lots of stuff going on. Exactly what the game is like: no clean lines, everything is grimy or covered in mud. The modules are fun as well: in the ones I have, there is an illustration in the back of the book of four adventurers — it’s an ad for the DCC game line. These are also the characters that are used for the illustrations inside: so you see these people fight against the monsters that are described in the text. That’s fun, but there is also an illustration that shows how one of them is killed by one of the monsters.
And then in the next module, you see that the place of the adventurer that was killed is taken by a new adventurer, and a different adventurer dies… That’s really what DCC is about: a struggle against the unknowable.
But I’m not a big fan of the DCC aesthetic. I am a big fan of The One Ring, and that interior art is really good as well. Muted tones, brooding marshes and quietly menacing woods, heroes resting during their travels in the broken ruins of kingdoms that fell ages ago. Only occasionally do we see a battle scene — just like it is with the game. That’s exactly what the game is about, so that one takes the prize.
Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?
That is, without a doubt, the Amber Diceless RPG.
You see, back when it was released, in 1991, there were hardly any story-focused games. It’s the same year the D&D Rules Cyclopedia was released, and Vampire: The Masquerade. V:tM claimed to be all about telling stories, but the dice mechanics in there really rewarded tweaking your character’s stats.
Not so with Amber. In Amber, there are no dice. There isn’t even a character sheet! It was so completely unlike any other RPG — there were fierce debates whether it was an RPG at all, since there were no dice to roll!
It was the first game (that I was aware of) that just did away with action resolution mechanics. Higher score wins, period. This also means that you have to trust your GM, and that better narration gives better results. This attracted a very diverse set of players who were not that strongly into the ‘sweaty try-hard’ mode of gameplay that was prevalent at the time. And like always when diversity increases, the community becomes more vibrant too. So vibrant, in fact, that this single niche RPG supported multiple annual conventions across the world!
We attended some Ambercons too — they were always very good fun. Lots of people tinkering with the setting, thinking up interesting ‘lenses’ through which to explore the game. And the source material leaves lots of room for interpretation and extrapolation, creating a fertile ground for non-traditional thinkers who want to do something else than crawling through dungeons. I ran a series of scenarios where the players were Vikings, recruited by the Elders to fight against the Courts of Chaos. But I’ve also played in games inspired by Scottish history, by Wacky Races (really!) and pretty much everything in-between.
The game itself is now ‘dead’ — even though there are still Ambercons going on, it’s mostly the die-hards that attend and I don’t think there’s much new blood flowing in. After all, the only released expansion, Shadow Knight, dates from 1993. Sure, “Lords of Gossamer and Shadow” has taken up the diceless mantle (see my review here), but the publisher died last year. His widow has taken up the torch, but the publishing schedule will undoubtedly slip. And LoGaS, while sort-of compatible with Amber in rules and setting, just doesn’t seem to garner the same attention and excitement.
Where do you go for RPG reviews?
RPGGeek. If I’m curious about an RPG, I navigate to the game’s page on RPGGeek. The linked forums make it easy to find reviews, but also Play-by-Forum threads of people actually playing the game. Reading through that makes it even easier to get a feel for the system and the setting. I also participate in the GeekMod peer moderation, when I have the time, and I get to see some reviews even before they are published on the site!
I hang out with a few RPG players on various Discord servers. I tend to pick up ‘buzz’ about a game there, which prompts the research.
What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?
All of them. I’ve stopped caring about long-term, open-ended campaigns. Instead, I want a focused narrative experience in which the goals and motivations of my character align with the story arc.
Long-term campaigns can be a thing of beauty, but most of them just sputter out and never reach any sort of conclusion. It can become an endless slog through dungeons, without any real goal to achieve. So rather, I’d sign up for a game where the basic plot is already decided upon, with a bounded number of sessions, wherein the plot and the role of the characters unfolds gradually each session. And then, after a few sessions, you get the big pay-off that ties everything together!
And after that, you can start a new short campaign — perhaps in another game system, perhaps in a different setting. I really crave that variety, to experience multiple stories instead of a few that just never seem to go anywhere.
What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?
That depends on what you want to get out of the experience, of course. If you want an epic story, then sessions of two hours simply don’t cut it because there is too little time to ramp up and ramp down again. At least, that’s my experience playing The One Ring with 2 hour sessions — it just didn’t work.
So you’d need something where every session is kind-of self-contained and that maintains the “narrative thrust” all throughout the session. No downtime, just a no-holds-barred action-packed story that keeps the players engaged.
Maybe The Sprawl could work like that, if you have a strict time-keeping mechanism in place. Maybe Blades in the Dark could work, because it focuses on the action so much, and downtime could be played through e-mail or something like that. Or maybe Ryuutama, if you have short journeys and simple problems to solve.
But I think the game that is best for this is Paranoia. It sets the players up against each other, which means everybody has to be fully engaged with what is happening — otherwise they will, quite literally, lose out. Paranoia scenarios don’t need a real plot or a real resolution: just give the players some random weapons, put them in a semi-isolated location, and watch the fireworks unfold. And after two hours, time is up, the Internal Security goons arrive and mop up any survivors — the end.
What was your most impactful RPG session?
Well, the first, of course. If I hadn’t played that first session, I would never have continued playing RPGs.
But that’s probably not the intent behind this question, so let’s disregard the first session. In that case, then it is the first session of Dungeon World that I played. Not only was this a new-to-me group that has turned into a tightly-knit group of friends, it also exposed me to how the Apocalypse World Engine is supposed to work. This opened up new games and concepts to my gaming. The “make it your own” mentality of the AWE community has made me a better GM because it requires me to think of the things PCs do and how that relates to the world and the fiction.