One of the biggest chores in reconstructing our living situation is putting the books in the new bookcase(s). When we brought the books and the old bookcases upstairs, speed was more important than organisation, so they’re just all stacked haphazardly. But of course when the books take their rightful place in the living, we want to have some sort of grouping to have similar books together. (Certainly nothing like Dewey Decimal, but it has to make sense for us.)
So yesterday I spent quite some time pulling out all the books of my RPG collection and putting it in the new bookcase — it is certainly the largest category of books we have, and I am the one who has to organise them. A lot of work, but in the end it turns out I have just over 2 meters of shelf filled with RPG books. And over a quarter of that (56 cm) are classic Iron Crown Enterprises releases: the Middle-Earth Roleplaying boxed set (2nd edition), lots of Rolemaster (multiple editions and lots of sourcebooks) and almost the entire run of SpaceMaster (including two copies of the rules).
These days, I tend to buy PDFs instead of physical books: shipping costs tends to take out all the fun of getting physical books, and there are no local stores that I could visit to buy those books. There are two notable exceptions: one is every book published by Cubicle 7 for The One Ring, the current iteration of a Middle-Earth RPG (and, in my opinion, the first RPG to really capture the feel of the books!). The other is Tales from the Loop, an RPG set in an alternative 80’s by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag — I think those two books are all that’s going to come out, but I recently participated in a Kickstarter for a follow-up and sequel, set in the 90’s…
Both those series are gorgeous books with lots of atmosphere and great illustrations, so they’re worth it. There’s still some room in the bookcase for expansion of the RPG collection!
Last Sunday, we made characters for a Star Trek Adventures campaign, the current incarnation of a Star Trek RPG. We went through the rule system and it seems pretty cool. I get to play a Betazoid engineer, the lowest-ranked player character…
And yesterday, we had our first session. And after the “opening scenes”, our GM showed us the intro he made for our “series”, made from scratch!
So cool to see your nickname in the credits like that.
(I go by ‘FubFubFub’ on services that require usernames with more than three characters, like Twitch, which is where I connected with this group.)
Day 19: What music enhances your game?
I don’t play music during my sessions. Mostly that is because I don’t have the infrastructure to control the music — though for online play, Roll20 allows uploading music files for use during certain scenes, but I haven’t used it yet. And it can be distracting, especially for people who are slightly hard of hearing: the added background sound can make it harder for them to hear what the other players are saying.
But if I ever get to run that Macross-inspired campaign, you bet there will be an opening and ending theme for every session!
I backed the Tachyon Squadron Kickstarter for 1 dollar, which gave me immediate access to the text-only version of the rules. It’s called “text-only”, but it is a fully laid-out PDF which looks gorgeous. There are empty spaces where the art will go, but other than that, it’s the complete game. A pretty good investment!
And it’s really good: lots of good systems to emulate dogfights in space, like we know from movies and TV series. I also note that in the list of inspirations Robotech is mentioned… The only drawback is that it uses the FATE Core system, which I like in principle but had not gotten to ‘work’ in my own campaigns. And looking at the play examples, the players are busier with the mechanical aspects than with the fiction. And it’s the fiction I’m interested in…
So maybe I could port those excellent systems to the narrative dice system that FFG uses in its Star Wars games? Or maybe the Apocalypse World Engine? The Star Wars games obviously already have space battles, so I might read up on those first.
I’ve played a fair bit of Pathfinder: it was the game of choice for most of my groups once D&D 4th edition rolled along and everybody hated. Pathfinder was the game that kept the 3.5 torch burning, and players flocked towards it like moths to the flame.
I’ve never much liked Pathfinder: by the time I started playing the game, it was already well on its way along the “supplements with ever escalating power levels” route. Lots and lots of options, and while options as such are great, I also felt the need to write an app for my phone to keep track of all the different modifiers my character had to deal with during combat!
Now, with the release of D&D 5th edition, Dungeons and Dragons is back, bigger than ever, and it’s eating Pathfinder’s lunch. Clearly, something had to be done to save the Pathfinder model. One of those things is that the publisher released Starfinder, which is (as far as I can determine) a Pathfinder-in-space game. But there is also going to be a second edition of Pathfinder — with the goal of ‘cleaning up’ the game.
During a discussion of “how do you explain RPGs to people who are new to them”, someone linked to this hilarious video. It’s the story of how an elderly British couple accidentally ended up in a playtest of the D20 Star Wars roleplaying game — even though they didn’t know what an RPG is, or what Star Wars is — and yet completely played the scenario to pieces.
The release of the fifth edition of D&D has caused a renaissance in RPGs. People who stopped playing decades ago are returning to the hobby, and more and more new players are discovering the fun in playing RPGs. And there’s a trend for more inclusivity in the hobby too: the D&D5 artwork is more diverse, and more and more publishers are coming forward with anti-harrassment policies. That increases the audience for RPGs even more, which is very good!
And, in a case of “the rising tide raises all the ships”, once you find out RPGs are fun and that D&D is not the only game, you start looking at other things too, which means other RPGs are doing better too.
One of the most interesting niches are “actual play” streams or videos. A group of people come together to play RPGs (often a whole campaign) and they stream that to Twitch and/or put up the recordings on YouTube. Some people manage to make their living by being an on-line GM, aided by technology such as Roll20 (which we use extensively too for our online games).
Some of these streams are hugely popular and have thousands of viewers. Even our own games that we streamed and then put up on YouTube were doing pretty well in views. And if you’re an RPG publisher, then you can see some real effects when your game is featured on one of these shows.
I think that’s a really cool development: you can see the game being played, so you can find out what the game is about.
So one of my friends was inspired by The Last Jedi to play through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. He’s streaming his sessions, so we’ve been (sort-of) following along. And the discussions about the Jedi morality and such inspired him to organise a scenario for the Star Wars RPG (the current iteration by Fantasy Flight Games). We’ve played with him before: he did a game for us that was set at the beginning days of the Rebellion.
This game would be set roughly in the timeline of SW:KotOR2, about a 1000 years before the events in The Phantom Menace. And where we were restricted to the professions in the Age of Rebellion sourcebook in the previous game, for this game we were allowed to pick from all three sourcebooks — and that includes Jedi characters!
I wanted to play a Jedi, and I came up with Chunlade, a young female Twi’lek Jedi Seeker — with the Ataru Striker specialisation, which means her style of lightsaber combat is one of relentless attacks, using athletics like leaps and somersaults to close the distance. It’s the style that Yoda preferred. Twi’leks are the aliens with the two ‘tentacles’ on their head — I think the first time we see them is as the slave girl dancing for Jabba the Hutt.
The GM wanted to make a cool “title page” for our game, using concept art for our characters. But it turned out to be quite hard to find a depiction of a female Twi’lek that’s not all boobs, thighs and exposed midriffs. Not something a Jedi explorer would wear — and certainly not how I’d want to play a character. I guess that initial impression of Twi’lek’s as female, exotic, submissive and accessible has left its echos in the way they are depicted. Meh.
But after some extra searching we did manage to find the right concept art!
Left to right: Balar Dash, the Toruga Pilot; Chunlade, the Twi’lek Jedi; IG-N0BL3, the assassin droid; and Sikh Sikh L’est, the Cerean Jedi. Click to embiggen: we look absolutely bad-ass!
The largest exhibition for tabletop gaming is held every year in Essen, in their ‘fairgrounds’ building — four days with six large halls filled with booths from game manufacturers, publishers and dealers. (And, because it’s Germany, there are also booths selling grilled sausages in between.) There is, predictably, a large offering from German manufacturers (not only is the majority of the public German, but there is a real designer boardgaming culture in Germany), but there are also many international offerings. Design collectives from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan bring pallets of their games and sell out during the pre-orders, and there are visitors from all over the world.
We’ve been going there for a few years now, and we went on the first day — not that we had a specific list of games we ‘needed’ to get before they sold out, but because the first day doesn’t have the most public. (And still it’s noisy and sometimes you’re stuck in foot traffic.) And yes, I did have a list of games I was interested in, but that was just a tentative list: things that I thought looked cool, but if we didn’t see/find them, it would be fine too. There was only one thing that I really wanted to buy, at the request of a friend who wanted to buy it for his wife.
We hopped in the car around 09:00. Essen is about 90 minutes by car from home, so we’d arrive only 30 minutes after the doors opened. We didn’t fancy mixing in with the sweaty try-hards who sprint to all the booths selling their limited-quantity games. But it should still be early enough to get a decent parking spot near the fairgrounds.
Nope, we were too late! Everything had already filled up, and we were directed to P10, which is quite far away from the fairgrounds. There is a shuttle bus service, but our experience with that from two (or three?) years back was quite horrible: it took forever to get to the fair, and we had to wait for about half an hour for a bus to take us back to the car park at the end, so we were crammed in the bus with too many people holding on to too many super-sized boardgame boxes… Needless to say, we were dreading the experience.
Turned out it wasn’t all that bad: at least not the bus to the fair. It took only 15 minutes before it was our turn to get into a bus. I’ve had far worse! (Though the whiny Dutch family standing in line behind us made me want to kick them in the shins…)
After about 10 minutes we arrived at the south entrance! We had bought our tickets online, so after a short bio-break we entered the fair.
I had printed out the unofficial maps and marked the booths we were interested in. I had asked The Dice Shop Online, a specialty dice store, on Twitter if they were going to be there, and they told me their booth number. We had purchased two sets of their gemstone dice last year, and this year we got a set of opalite and purple turquoise dice!
Here you can see the dice in their full glory, on our dining table.
Chessex was there as well (of course they were). I bought this year’s dice style reference packet, so we can fill up the glass bowl of colourful dice on our table. The price was really odd, but that was because they directly converted to euro from pounds.
Our lunch: two döner. Service was really fast: the six people in the small food stall in the galleria were working really hard! We went outside and had a leisurely lunch.
We passed the stand of Steamforged games. The miniatures of their Dark Souls boardgame look amazing.
We went by the booth of Inside Up — they’re Canadian, judging from the flag they had up. We were given a demo of Vault Assault, which is a frantic dice game played in real-time (so no turns, everybody is rolling at the same time!) with a cops & robbers theme. We played the three-player version, but with four players you get also a cooperative aspect. After the demo, we bought the game from them, because it’s fun.
By then we met up with friends who were having lunch at the restaurant in Hall 3 — our usual ‘lunch date’. But phone reception was so bad that we couldn’t use our usual messaging app: there were probably too many phones at the same place. So we had lunch already, but we met up with them anyway, and had a piece of cake instead.
We mentioned that we were after this one game for a friend, and we had been looking for it, but we just couldn’t find it! We had asked someone who was carrying the game in a cloth bag with the game logo on it, and he provided directions — the wrong directions. So we complained about this to our friends, and they told us they had seen the game on offer, and provided directions — also wrong.
So we had given up, and decided to keep our eyes open, but not chase after this particular game because it was affecting our enjoyment of the fair. And we like to wander the halls with the ‘fringe’ stuff, like roleplaying games, comics, art, LARP weapons and very small home-grown game publishers, so we moved away from the halls with the big-name boardgame publishers to browse elsewhere. And then, at an empty booth (there were a lot of empty booths, surprisingly) we saw an ad for the game we were looking for, with the stand number on it! We checked the map: the publisher was clearly marked on it, so we couldn’t understand why we hadn’t found it on the map. Their logo (a blue orange) was suspended over their booth as well, so it was completely obvious..!
So we got the game, and got the cloth bag to carry it around in as well! I love those extras!
And we also got two of these: keychains of the publisher logo.
It was time for a snack. On the left are really sweet strawberries covered with milk chocolate and coconut rasp, on the right ‘wine grapes’ with bitter chocolate. It was amazing: juicy fruit in a thick layer of chocolate with just the right amount of ‘crunch’. Again, we went outside to cool off a bit and to get some fresh air!
At the stand of Modiphius, I leafed through the new Star Trek RPG (amazing layout, but I have little interest in it). I also saw this game: it is based on the works of Simon Stålenhag, in which you play kids who have to confront a mystery in their town. I like the art and the atmosphere, and I heard good things about the system. So I bought the book and the dice set (not that the dice are anything but six-siders, but I like the idea of having the set). And because Modiphius is awesome, I got to write down my e-mail address so I could get a PDF of the book for free!
We also wandered by the booth of Grey Fox, and their Harvest Dice was on my list of interesting games. And it is an interesting game: dice drafting, but there are additional layers that add strategy and complexity.
In the game, you have a pig that you can feed veggies that you can’t plant, and the player who begins the turn gets a pig chit to signify that. But as a special for Spiel, they had made a special ‘pig meeple’ to serve that purpose. When we bought the game, we were handed a ticket with another booth number (that of the publisher), and when we presented the ticket there, we got the pig meeple (and we got to see the other games of the publisher, which made excellent business sense for them).
We saved this purchase for last. It’ll make a good christmas present for my sister’s family (and I don’t think she reads this blog, so I feel safe putting this photo here). It’s a cooperative, real-time dice rolling game (again) with a strict time limit. And this is the ‘big box’, which means it’s the base game and all expansions — for a very good price! We got another cloth bag, big enough to hold the box.
A friend and his sister were attending for the first time, and we were about to leave without having seen them (which is not a surprise, given the size of the fair and the crowds). I messaged him, and he mentioned getting a burger before leaving — and we literally stood only 10 meters away from us! We got a burger too (it would be late before we got home anyway, and it beats highway food), and caught up with them. They had done some shopping and had played some fun demos. They were planning to return next year, but had already started looking into ways to make their time more ‘productive’…!
After saying goodbye to them, we left the fair and we were dreading the way back to the car park. But just as we were descending the stairs, a bus arrived and we could easily find a spot! And when we arrived at the car park, there was no line for the parking ticket pay desk, so we were in the car and on the highway back home before we knew it! Such a big difference from that previous time…
On our way back home we did encounter some difficulties because part of a highway junction had been closed off for a bomb defusal… This area of Germany was the industrial centre, so it’s no wonder lots of bombing raids were conducted here, and apparently they found an unexploded bomb, probably during road works. I’m happy that it is being taken care of, but it meant that we got stuck in traffic for a bit.
We also had some rain, and it was very lucky that this only happened when we were in the car. We had left our jackets in the car, because it’s always warm in the fair halls, and I didn’t fancy waiting to check our coats in and out. If we had been waiting for a bus to arrive when the rain had started, then our trip back would have been miserable!
And then we arrived home, eleven hours after leaving. Kind of tired now…
So, if you compile a list of top tips from DMs by looking at a representative sample of responses to a DM survey, you get this top 4:
Prepare to improvise.
Focus on the players and their characters.
Monitor the pacing of your game.
Evoke memorable NPCs and fantastic worlds.
So that’s what other DMs advise you to do when running a game. This is not something that is built in into Dungeons and Dragons, this is something that the Dungeon Masters have to discover for themselves.
Contrast that with this excerpt from Dungeon World:
Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World:
Portray a fantastic world
Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
Play to find out what happens
I’ve written about how Dungeon World is superior, and here is another point of proof: the best advice anyone can give you about running a fantasy RPG is built right into the game.