#RPGaDAY, Day 21: Favorite RPG Setting

Day 21 appears to be Favorite Setting here at #RPGaDAY2015, or so I think. I haven’t really been looking at the schedule.

So, favorite setting? I’m of two minds on that, but one’s a cheat: the modern world, but with a twist. It’s something that’s too overly-broad, but dangit, it’s fun to place the iPad on the table, open up Google Maps and say, “You’re right here.” Swipe to street view. “And this is what you see.”

I’m going to Blue Planet for my real answer.

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Now, despite the flaws of the game itself — the unfocused skill list and lack of guidance for what to do in the setting, for starters — the setting is fantastic. Here’s the basics:

We find a wormhole to another planetary system, find a habitable world there and send settlers. However, bad things happen back home — a global blight nearly starves the planet — and we can’t afford to send a resupply mission. Generations pass and we’ve crawled back up from the ashes, and send a ship to the world we found a century ago. We expect to find the remains of the initial two thousand. We did not expect to find that they survived: they survived and flourished.

Then we found unobtanium on the new planet and suddenly a flood of immigration. It’s a gold rush — over the decade after Recontact, the population of the new planet goes from 75,000 to over two million.

Just that is a fine, fertile field to start a game in. Play as the Natives, resentful of the Abandonment, angry at the Earthers coming in and taking the land. Play as the eco-cops, trying to keep corporate marauders from laying waste to Poseidon, just as they did to the Earth. Play as a new arrival, grateful to have escaped the hellscapes of the Earth system, now trying to make their way on a paradise world.

Who is in the right here? Who has the right to this planet? Cases can be made for all sides, really.

bp_modguideBut that’s just one thing I like about the setting. There’s the oddness that the game is set up with all this history and — initially released around the time of your World of Darkness, your Shadowrun, your Deadlands — there was no metaplot designed to prompt people into buying supplement after supplement. “Here’s how the game world is set up in the now of 2199,” Blue Planet says. “Now go make it your own!”[1]

The third thing I really like about the setting is that make it your own philosophy. The major setting book of BPv2 looked at island clusters: a big map of one area with named cities, towns, and outposts. Following that, a listing of just some of the areas. In the Zion Islands, Kingston is given a full on writeup, New Fremantle is described in a few paragraphs, Pearl is given a bullet point, and Retreat is only a dot on the map. How much hand-holding do you want when creating your play space in Blue Planet? If you want a complete setting, grab First Colony and play in and around Haven. Want to make up your own place with some supporting material? Retreat is a nice town.[2] Or if you want to do all the heavy lifting, there are three more huge archipeligos that you can detail to your liking! Carve out your slice of paradise!

Man, such a fun setting. Ancient mysteries, current grudges, a boiling pot of hard science, transhumanistic cyberpunk on a world of water and islands and conflict and hard, driving rain…

I’d love to go back and explore.

  1. My “short” campaign wound down maybe two sessions before the actual end. I was going to end it with terrorists destroying the orbital station that transferred people to the planet. []
  2. ..or is it? You choose. []

#RPGaDAY2015, Day 18: Favorite Science Fiction RPG

Yesterday on #RPGaDAY2015, our topic was Favorite Sci-Fi RPG. This topic is a bit difficult for me because a science fiction roleplaying game is different from a fantasy one. In fantasy, you’ve got your default setting of a pseudo-European medieval-ish feudal system where magic works and the countryside is plagued by green-skinned monsters that need killing. Where you get your specific game branches off that there, adding or deleting elements, but pretty much sticking close to that core. Science fiction — oh, man, that could be anything: are we talking Flash Gordon, Star Wars, or The Matrix? For a sci-fi RPG, setting and system matter so much more than fantasy.

landscapes aircraft tokyo trees ruins postapocalyptic fantasy art airports artwork jet aircraft ivy abandoned flooded overgrowth tokyogenso_www.wall321.com_11

I’m drawn to Apocalypse World because of the various science fiction RPGs to consider, it has the best marriage of a system that l like and a setting that’s interesting. Setting-wise, there’s a ton of games that are cool. Topping the list is Blue Planet—a setting wide open for gaming possibilities but whose system is an unfocused haze.[1] Shadowrun, I love the setting (as gonzo as it is), but the ruleset seems to be stuck in that decades-old mindset of trying to realistically simulate the physics of shotguns and grenades in a world where magical dwarves can very easily instantly conjure 40 foot wide explosions of acid to attack a pack of guard dogs that breathe fire.[2] Eclipse Phase is interesting, but intimidating. Other games have an amazing system, but the setting doesn’t do much for me. (Specifically, I’m talking about FFG’s Star Wars RPGs.)

Apocalypse World has a system I really like. It’s simple and the system is really tied to the game. The system doesn’t seem like Vincent mashed together something and stuck a post-apocalyptic theme on the framework, it guides a play style. Unlike Blue Planet’s directionless game system, each character has custom moves that tie into what you’re supposed to be doing in the game. If you’re playing one type of character, it’s spelled out that you, and only you, are able to do these cool things, like open yourself up to the psychic maelstrom that’s threatening (?) the world to heal someone. These aren’t class abilities, like in other games, these are actual rules for how the game is played.

I kind of like that. It’s a bit niche protection, but it’s more like character spotlighting and taking ownership of one’s place in the world.

And the world of Apocalypse World is interesting, too. There’s not a setting here—there’s an implied setting. The change to the world took place over a generation ago, but not several generations back; there’s a “psychic maelstrom”; there are settlements of humanity, biker gangs, cults, and the like. However, the flavor and location of your apocalypse is up to you. We had a game where nature took over, and we were set in a vine-choked Manhattan. I’ve heard of games as diverse as a Las Vegas-area setting where the ghosts of the deceased were used to power electric generators, a cluster of satellites fused together in Low Earth Orbit with no contact from the planet below, a ski resort in the mountains of Colorado trapped in an ice age, and a drowned city being invaded by other-dimensional weirdness.

Yeah, it’s that combination of ur-setting and game-driven system that really calls to me.

  1. Blue Planet’s system is good, it’s the implementation that’s particularly awful with how the skills and attributes are broken down. But my biggest complaint is there isn’t any guidance on what to do with Blue Planet: the rules don’t point you in a particular direction, so the massive list of skills/attributes have to cover anything your group decides to do. []
  2. It takes over a dozen steps to cast that force 6 Toxic Wave spell and find its effects on the targets. []

#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 17 – Funniest Game You’ve Played

One year ago today, the topic was Funniest Game You’ve Played. I really haven’t played much since that post, so the answer will remain the same.

The thing about humor in games is if it’s forced, it’s not funny. That’s why I don’t go for comedy games. I prefer the humor to come up naturally within a game. To put it in movie terms, you know Michael Bay’s Transformers? The first one? There’s the government agent guy and he’s the forced humor in the movie: an overacting cartoonish insult to the audience’s intelligence. But there he is, somehow stripped down to a Superman-like-logo t-shirt that he’s wearing and goofy boxers! Isn’t that hilarious? Oh, and now he’s being peed on by Bumblebee. Haw haw.

That type of thing is just painful.

That’s been my experience with comedy RPGs. Instead of the funny just happening, it’s pointed out.

head of vecnaSome of the funniest bits have come from games where people are playing it straight and serious. Eric vs. the Gazebo. The Head of Vecna. That one thing where two Call of Cthulhu characters wound up being eaten by a ghoul because they kept fighting over who was going to use a shotgun on the advancing creature until it was too late. All stories from games that were played straight.

Too many funny moments come from non-humor games, like in our serious Blue Planet game where our down-on-her-luck waitress, who was built out to be incredibly observant (like Shawn Spencer from Psych) never, ever, ever once succeeded on notice or spot or observe something roll. All these points, all this effort to fit a character concept and the dice constantly betrayed her. Each time Amy rolled to notice something, the table cracked up in laughter.

Or the Shadowrun 4th edition game where a rigger using a drone with twin machine guns firing, firing, firing at a ghoul jumping off a building to the street – and every dice I rolled for the ghoul’s dodge comes up a success. We pause the game as we recover from the ninja ghoul breaking the game.

Amidst a carnival in Lacuna, where cockroaches are pouring out of exploding balloons and clowns and someone says something completely that fits right in with the situation but those of us around the table, a step removed from the action, suddenly realize how bizarre that comment is and we laugh, louder and longer than we would in, say, Toon.

No, give me a serious drama and the sparks of humor shine a bit brighter. Give me a Game of Thrones episode and a contemptuous smile by Tyrion at just the right moment. That’s what I like.